South Korea announces plan to apply for TPP membership

SEOUL — South Korea will apply for membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki announced on Monday.

“The government will begin the relevant process to promote in earnest its joining the TPP pact,” Hong was quoted as saying Monday at a meeting of ministers involved with the external economy. Hong also serves as deputy prime minister.

The TPP multilateral free trade framework involves 11 countries, including Japan and Australia.

Earlier this month, South Korea ratified the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a free trade agreement among 15 countries, including Japan, China, South Korea and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The agreement will come into effect on Jan. 1 next year.

Seoul is aiming to strengthen its competitiveness in the regional economy.

Citing China and Taiwan’s applications for TPP membership, as well as the effectuation of the RCEP, Hong was quoted as saying, “We comprehensively took into consideration South Korea’s position as an open trade nation.”

According to Yonhap News Agency, the South Korean government expects that joining the TPP will improve the productivity of small and midsize companies and boost exports.

It had been debating whether to participate in the TPP due to such fears as the potential weakening of South Korean agriculture. There are also concerns that the trade deficit with Japan may worsen because South Korea and Japan do not have a bilateral free trade agreement in place.

However, Seoul apparently decided that the advantages it would gain from joining the TPP outweigh the disadvantages.