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The government will speed up talks to reach free trade agreements (FTA) with Japan, Mexico and other countries to cope with increasing protectionism, according to officials.

It will also import more products from the United States such as aircraft and industrial machinery to cut Korea's trade surplus with the country. These measures are part of the 2017 external economic policy directives, which the government revealed Thursday.

According to the finance ministry, Korea will focus on signing bilateral FTAs with more countries to open up new markets. While multilateral FTAs involving regional economic blocs were the norm a few years ago, protectionism is becoming a new dominant trend in global trade, especially with the inauguration of the Donald Trump administration in the U.S.

Washington has said it will focus on bilateral trade agreements based on its "America First" policy, while deserting multilateral agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Korea also has to reflect the changes in its global trade surroundings, shifting its focus to bilateral deals.

The government said it will strengthen cooperation with the remaining TPP member countries that haven't signed FTAs with Korea, such as Mexico and Japan.

"We will seek to sign an FTA with Mexico, as well as a three-way deal with China and Japan," said Jin Seoung-ho, director in charge of the ministry's international economic affairs bureau. Korea and Mexico recently agreed to start preliminary negotiations for a bilateral trade deal.

In addition, it will complete ongoing FTA negotiations with Ecuador and Israel, on top of seeking FTAs with entities like Mercosur and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

Also included in the plan is increasing imports from the U.S. Korea, whose trade surplus with America has been over $20 billion annually, is facing complaints from the Trump administration over the imbalance.

The government thus announced last year it will import more resources from the United States, including 2.8 million tons of shale gas. In addition, the government also plans to import more industrial machinery and aircraft from the United States to lessen the surplus.

To encourage economic cooperation between the two countries, the government will actively seek investment opportunities in the United States.

It also aims at attaining $510 billion in exports this year, up 2.9 percent from 2016. The government plans to encourage the development of huge exporters of consumer goods such as cosmetics, medicine, food and fashion, on top of nurturing more globally popular brands.

Source: The Korea Times

By: Yoon Ja-young

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