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ASEAN urges S. Korea not to exclude rice from FTA
(Kyodo) _ Trade negotiators from the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations urged South Korea on Wednesday not to exclude rice from a trade liberalization pact with ASEAN, officials said. ASEAN and South Korea are in the final stage of concluding a framework agreement on economic cooperation including an element of a free trade agreement.

Both sides have expressed hope of signing the pact Tuesday when their leaders meet in Kuala Lumpur.

But Thailand has come up with a strong bid to secure that Seoul will not exclude rice from the tariff reduction plan. On Tuesday, the Thai Cabinet decided not to allow an FTA deal that might be exclusive of rice, the main export commodity of the country.

Bounsom Phommavihane, Laos' chief negotiator who currently chairs ASEAN's panel of senior economic officials, told reporters it was not only Thailand that has expressed concerns about the exclusion of rice.

"ASEAN countries are mostly producing rice and agriculture products, so we have to be careful about negotiating (the FTA) with South Korea. It is important for us, we would like to get the (South) Korean market also," he said

Bounsom added that Thailand and Singapore would represent ASEAN as a group to convince South Korea on the matter.

Lee Tae Ho, deputy director general of the Free Trade Bureau at South Korea's Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry, rebuffed rumors of a dispute between Thailand and South Korea on rice trade.

"I don't think we will call it a dispute. That's part of the negotiation process. At the moment I'm not in a position to comment on any specific product because we are talking about some modality of liberalization. Everybody has specific concerns of negotiations and Thailand is one of them," he said.

"We're now in close contact with the Thais but I'm quite sure, I'm rather optimistic as a negotiator to have the agreement by the time our president (Roh Moo Hyun) arrives," Lee added.

Currently, rice imports in South Korea have been restricted under a tariff quota system warranted by the global trade rules of the World Trade Organization, according to top Thai trade negotiator Apiradi Tantraporn.

"South Korea has indicated that there will be an exclusion list and we want to tell them not to exclude rice," she said.

Asked if Thailand would accept if Seoul increased the quota for Thailand, she said, "We will be happy if they do so but it is unlikely."

ASEAN and South Korea have also pledged to conclude their negotiations on liberalization in services and investment by next year.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
MGR Archive 8.12.2005
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