ASEAN, South Korea sign agreement to liberalize trade - 16 May, 2006 - News

ASEAN countries, with the exception of Thailand , signed an agreement with South Korea Tuesday to liberalize merchandise trade as part of plans to create a free-trade area by 2012, officials said. Major rice exporter Thailand stayed out because it has not resolved its dispute with South Korea , which has insisted on excluding rice from the accord.

" Thailand did not sign today because of differences over rice (with South Korea ). They will have to discuss further," said ASEAN Secretary General Ong Keng Yong. At the same time, he said, the negotiations have been stalled by Thailand 's political crisis.

South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong said the agreement "should promote further trade and increase total amount of investment on both sides. " Thailand was unable to sign but as soon as the domestic situation merits, it would join and sign," he said.

Thailand was represented in the talks by its vice commerce minister, Uttama Savanayana. He said on Monday that discussions with Seoul were still ongoing. "We have exchanged lists. Everything is on the table. We are not looking at one item in isolation, there are other agricultural items and goods as well," he said, without elaborating. With the conclusion of the agreement on merchandise trade, Ong said that ASEAN and South Korea will next discuss liberalizing services and investment, reports the AP.