S. Korea, Panama agree to boost trade, economic ties

June 29, 2010 10:42 am 

By Lee Chi-dong

PANAMA CITY, June 29 (PNA/Yonhap) — South Korea and Panama agreed Monday to forge a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) at an early date and expand economic partnership.

"Panama will be able to play a bridging role in promoting friendly ties between South Korea and Central American nations. I hope South Korea will regard Panama as an advanced base for its investment" in the region, Panama's President Ricardo Martinelli said at the start of his summit with President Lee Myung-bak.

Lee arrived here earlier in the day, becoming the first South Korean president to visit Panama since the two countries established diplomatic ties in 1962.

Lee said he was impressed by the Panamanian leader's strong will to boost the country's economy.

"I confirmed that South Korea can become its great partner," Lee was quoted as saying after the summit by his spokeswoman Kim Eun-hye.

Kim said the leaders, both former business CEOs, had "very practical dialogue" during the 90-minute meeting.

"The leaders agreed to sign a South Korea-Panama FTA at an early date," she said.

If signed, the pact will affect efforts by other Central American countries to lower trade barriers with South Korea.

Panama holds the rotating presidency of the Central American Integration System (SICA) that also involves Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. SICA is an intergovernmental body designed to boost regional cooperation.

In their summit, Martinelli also accepted Lee's request for cooperation on South Korean firms' efforts to participate in the Central American nation's mineral resources development and infrastructure construction projects, according to a 13-point joint statement.

South Korea is seeking to participate in the "Cobre Panama" copper mine development project and the Panama Canal Authority's plan to increase its diesel power plant facilities.

Lee and Martinelli also agreed that their governments need to sign a bilateral Double Taxation Agreement to facilitate the exchange of financial information and avoid double taxation, the document read.

Panama, known as a logistical and financial hub of Central America, is South Korea's third-largest trading partner among Central and South American countries after Mexico and Brazil. Two-way trade volume totaled US$ 5.5 billion in 2009.

In the summit, the South Korean president expressed "sincere interest" in Panama's bid to become a new member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the lifting of a moratorium on the organization's membership expansion. The 21 members of the APEC plan to discuss whether to allow new members to the regional body at their summit in Tokyo in November of this year.

The statement also said Panama "strongly condemned" North Korea's naval attack on a South Korean warship in March that killed 46 sailors.

Martinelli is scheduled to visit South Korea in October in what would be the first trip by a Panaminian president to do so. (PNA/Yonhap)

ALM/ebp

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