SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea says it will start negotiations to join a U.S.-led trade pact covering a dozen Pacific and Asian nations.
The finance ministry said Friday that officials will explore the possibility of joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership through the preliminary talks.
The move is a first step and doesn't commit South Korea to becoming part of the agreement.
Joining the trade bloc of 12 countries that includes Japan, Canada, Mexico and Vietnam faces strong opposition from South Korean farmers and the fishing industry.
Export-reliant South Korea has free trade deals with the U.S. and European Union. It is negotiating a free trade deal with China, which is not part of the U.S.-led pact.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is not in effect yet, but the U.S. and other countries hope for an agreement by the end of this year. Apart from reducing trade barriers, the pact also requires its members to meet environmental, labor and intellectual property protection standards.
South Korea's GDP will get a boost of around 2.5 percent over 10 years, South Korea's trade ministry said at its first public hearings on the TPP earlier this month. Not being part of the free trade area would cause economic losses equivalent to about 0.2 percent of GDP, the ministry said.
Such estimates by the government, however, were challenged by other trade experts who said little is known about the talks.
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