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Korea, Uzbekistan to bolster infra, energy, supply chain ties

Both agree on swift conclusion of free trade agreement to further expand investment, trade

March 26, 2024 - 15:50 By Ji Da-gyum
South Korean Deputy Minister for Political Affairs Chung Byung-won (left) and Uzbek Deputy Foreign Minister Bobur Usmanov shake hands during the 16th Korea-Uzbekistan Policy Consultation held on Monday in Tashkent. (South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

South Korea and Uzbekistan agreed to reinforce cooperation on infrastructure, energy and supply chains and continue to expand leader-to-leader and high-level exchanges during a vice-ministerial level policy dialogue on Monday, South Korea's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.

The 16th South Korea-Uzbekistan Policy Consultation, led by South Korean Deputy Minister for Political Affairs Chung Byung-won and Uzbek Deputy Foreign Minister Bobur Usmanov, was held Monday in Tashkent, according to the foreign ministries of both countries.

Chung and Usmanov engaged in extensive discussions on mutual interests including bilateral relations, enhancing substantial cooperation, Korean Peninsula affairs and regional situations, the Foreign Ministry in Seoul said.

Both vice-ministers notably "committed to further strengthening cooperation on supply chains by successfully executing the project on the commercialization of rare metals," according to the Foreign Ministry.

"Both sides shared the understanding that there is high potential for cooperation in establishing supply chains of core raw materials between Uzbekistan, which has abundant resources, and Korea, which possesses advanced technologies."

The Korea-Uzbek Rare Metals Center in Chirchik is spearheading the project, which Seoul regards as a vital step in bolstering Korea's supply chains by securing high-value materials, including molybdenum and tungsten, crucial for semiconductors and electronic components.

Both vice-ministers also agreed to reinforce existing cooperation on energy and infrastructure and deepen cooperation in fields, including health care, education, information technology, environment, renewable energy, agriculture, and others to "further substantiate the special strategic partnership between the two countries."

The two countries elevated their relationship from a strategic partnership to a special strategic partnership in 2019, during the state visit of then-President Moon Jae-in to Uzbekistan.

Chung particularly called for special attention and support from Uzbekistan to facilitate the participation of Korean companies in cooperative projects, particularly in the fields of high-speed rail and expressway construction and the defense industry in the future, according to South Korea's Foreign Ministry.

In response, Usmanov expressed Uzbekistan's warm welcome for the investment and participation of Korean companies, pledging wholehearted support to that end.

"Both sides assessed that Korea and Uzbekistan have developed close relations across various fields as special strategic partners and concurred on the need to continuously expand leader-to-leader and high-level exchanges, which play a pivotal role in developing the bilateral relationship," according to the Foreign Ministry in Seoul.

"The Korea-Uzbekistan Policy Consultation is evaluated to have contributed to substantiating the special strategic partnership between the two countries by reviewing current issues of substantial cooperation and exploring promising areas of cooperation," it added.

The Uzbek Foreign Ministry on Monday said the agenda of the bilateral talks also covered the issues of "deepening cooperation in the field of labor migration" in a separate English statement.

South Korean Deputy Minister for Political Affairs Chung Byung-won (first from right) and Uzbek Deputy Minister of Investment, Industry, and Trade, Izat Kasimov (first from left), hold a meeting on Monday in Uzbekistan, (South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Chung held discussions with the newly appointed Uzbek Deputy Minister of Investment, Industry, and Trade, Izat Kasimov, on Monday, focusing on economic cooperation encompassing trade, investment, and cooperation for development.

Chung and Kasimov noted the upward trend in trade volume, citing last year's record high bilateral trade volume of $24.5 billion during the meeting, according to the Foreign Ministry in Seoul.

Both sides "agreed to closely cooperate to facilitate Uzbekistan's entry into the WTO and to swiftly conclude the Korea-Uzbekistan Trade Agreement, aiming to further expand trade and investment between the two countries," Seoul said,

In January 2021, negotiations for the bilateral free trade agreement officially began under the formal name of "Agreement for Sustainable Trade and Economic Partnership" or STEP.

"Both sides agreed to closely cooperate to ensure the successful implementation of development projects in various fields, including the construction of the National Medical Complex," South Korea's Foreign Ministry said.