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TheStreet Open House

Asian Giants Tiptoe Toward Free Trade Deal

By YOUKYUNG LEE

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) â¿¿ China, Japan and South Korea are inching ahead with talks for a free trade zone that would rival the European Union and North America in economic heft. Despite the achievement of setting aside their often acrimonious relations to begin negotiations, progress will be slow. An agreement to start talks took 10 years.

After three days of meetings in Seoul that finished Thursday, South Korea said officials agreed to hold two more rounds of negotiations this year, with the second meeting to be held in China either in June or July. Negotiations will cover goods, services and investment and might be extended to intellectual property rights and electronic commerce.

Striking an optimistic tone on the first day of talks, Japan's negotiator Koji Tsuruoka said the "integration of three economies which are very significant economies in this area as well as globally will provide very fruitful results to industries ... and to people."

Trade between the three Asian powers totaled $684 billion in 2011, an increase of more than five times from 1999, underlining Asia's growing weight in the world economy after more than two decades of breakneck growth in China and the earlier rise of Japan and South Korea as manufacturing powerhouses.

Those booming commercial ties are one of the few bright spots for relations among the three. The legacy of Japan's colonial occupation of South Korea until 1945 and its World War II-era atrocities in China has provided fertile ground for animosity.

Beijing and Tokyo's dispute over the sovereignty of East China Sea islands led last year to anti-Japanese riots in China and a damaging consumer boycott of Japanese autos and other goods. China and South Korea's relations have been strained over Beijing's continuing support for North Korea even as the North engages in threatening behavior and rhetoric.

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