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No 'Negative Sentiment' to Korea-China FTA: President Lee

Reported by Chloe Cho, Written by Liza Tan
Thursday, 24 May 2012 | 7:06 PM ET

The framework for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between South Korea and China may be ready in two years, said the South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, adding that there was little opposition to the trade pact.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak
AP
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak

Both countries agreed to enter negotiations for a bilateral trade pact on May 2. This framework would allow both countries to engage Japan in a trilateral FTA, which Lee thinks will "happen much sooner than expected."

"As to whether it will take as long as the Korea-U.S. FTA, I don't think so as there was a lot of political opposition to the deal while there isn't much negative sentiment towards a Korea-China FTA," Lee said in an exclusive interview with CNBC earlier this week in Seoul.

According to an estimate by South Korea's finance ministry, an FTA with China would boost its economic growth by as much as three percentage points and create 330,000 jobs over 10 years.

Myanmar Beckons

Lee also made a visit to Myanmar in May, the same week Washington suspended sanctions on investments in the frontier market.

"Pursuing economic cooperation with Myanmar is important given that the country had conducted arms trade with North Korea in the past, so it makes sense for us to help put them on a 'normal' track," Lee said.

On the opportunities that Myanmar offers South Korean companies, Lee said that low wages are a big draw, given they are about half the levels in China.

Myanmar's population of over 60 million and abundant natural resources are other factors that make it attractive for investments. Lee's visit was the first by a South Korean president in almost three decades.

Catch President Lee Myung-bak's interview on "The CNBC Conversation" at 12pm and 7pm (SG/HK times) on Saturday.

- Reported by Chloe Cho, written by CNBC's Liza Tan

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