SEOUL, Jan. 12 (Yonhap) -- South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said Thursday his government could launch formal talks with China on forging a bilateral free trade agreement, possibly in the first half of 2012, after finishing domestic procedures to start the talks within "a few months."
President Lee Myung-bak told his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao during summit talks in Beijing earlier this week that Seoul will soon start domestic preparations to begin official negotiations with Beijing on a free trade deal. Since 2008, the two sides have held a series of joint feasibility studies on a possible deal.
"It will take a few months for us to complete the domestic procedures," Kim said in a real-time conversation with Twitter and Facebook users, when asked about the prospects of launching formal talks with China.
The window of opportunity for the two nations to reach a deal seems to be relatively big as they have reached a consensus to avoid putting some contentious issues on the negotiating table if the formal talks begin, Kim said.
"Both sides know well about the sensitivity of agriculture, fisheries and textile products. So, there is a consensus that the talks would eliminate sensitive issues that could harm each other," Kim said.
"So, both sides could launch the talks based on the consensus."
China, the world's No. 2 economy, is the biggest trading partner of South Korea.
Two-way trade between Seoul and Beijing totaled $224.8 billion in the first 11 months of last year and both sides expect the trade volume to reach $300 billion by 2015.