S. Korea, Israel agree on early FTA

S. Korea, Israel agree on early FTA

President Moon Jae-in has agreed to sign a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) earlier than expected with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in a move to further boost the trade volume between Seoul and Tel Aviv, Cheong Wa Dae said, Monday.

"Two-way trade between South Korea and Israel is growing as Jerusalem has been one of Seoul's important trading partners over the last few decades and vice versa. Given that situation, an early FTA will clearly play the role of an extra booster, which is mutually beneficial," Moon told Rivlin at the start of his summit in the presidential office, according to Cheong Wa Dae press pool reports.

In response, Rivlin said the bilateral trade pact would become a key framework for South Korea in terms of creating synergy between South Korea's manufacturing prowess and Israel's innovation strength in emerging industries such as future mobility and biotech, which Seoul identified as the country's next growth engines.

Rivlin arrived in Seoul on Sunday for a four-day state visit to discuss prospects for deeper economic cooperation.

Last year, bilateral trade hit a historic high of $2.7 billion, Cheong Wa Dae said in a statement. South Korea mainly sells second-tier vehicles, wireless communication devices and synthetic resins to Israel. Among key import items are components for use in memory chip fabrication and applied electronics.

The two countries had announced the start of the FTA talks in May 2015. Since then, a string of working-level discussions have been underway. Seoul and Tel Aviv are aiming to strike the trade pact by the end of this year, at the earliest.

At the summit, President Moon and Rivlin signed two memorandums of understanding (MOUs) in areas of higher education and hydrogen economy. South Korea sees hydrogen as another new engine for the country's economic growth and central in Seoul's shift to a low-carbon economy in the long term.

President Moon earlier announced a road map, which would see the country produce up to 6.2 million hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) and build 1,200 refueling stations by 2040, with the central and regional government providing subsidies.

"President Moon told Rivlin that South Korea was hoping to share know-how and experience that would be adjustable and affordable in terms of creating better systems for local startups," the pool reports said, adding the two also agreed to expand cooperation in artificial intelligence, driverless vehicles and fifth-generation (5G) networks.

Separately, President Moon also briefed Rivlin on developments of nuclear disarmament talks between the Koreas and the United States after the historic Trump-Kim Jong-un meeting at the inter-Korean border on June 30. Rivlin remained supportive of Moon's peace drive, according to the reports.

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