SEOUL, South Korea
South Korea said Friday it will start negotiations to join a U.S.-led trade pact covering a dozen Pacific and Asian nations.
The finance ministry said in a statement that officials will explore the possibility of joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership through the preliminary negotiations.
The move is a first step and doesn’t commit South Korea to becoming part of the agreement, but the trade ministry has been talking up its benefits for the economy.
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.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman on Friday welcomed South Korea’s expression of interest in joining the TPP and noted its important role in the regional economy.