South Korea is still cautious about whether to join regional multilateral trade talks led by the United States, a ranking trade official said Wednesday, adding that the government's stance is still undecided.
South Korea is looking into the possibility of taking part in regional free trade negotiations among Asia-Pacific nations, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
"The TPP is a very important issue for us, and we are to decide our stance very carefully," Choi Kyong-lim, deputy trade minister, told reporters during a press briefing. "Nothing has been decided yet."
The TPP is a multilateral trade deal for which the United States is negotiating with 12 countries including Japan, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile and Malaysia.
South Korea already has a bilateral FTA with the United States and is seeking to ink a bilateral agreement with China. It is also taking part in ongoing negotiations for the so-called Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a multilateral FTA for the East Asian region that also includes China, Japan and the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Earlier, the Seoul government has hinted that it would weigh joining the TPP trade talks.
Championed by U.S. President Barack Obama, the TPP is a key part of Washington's efforts to boost its economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region and is considered a counterbalance to the rise of China.
With Japan joining the TPP talks in April, many analysts have expected the U.S. to ask South Korea to enter the negotiations for a proposed trade deal that would account for about 40 percent of the global economy.
U.S. officials describe South Korea as a "natural candidate" for the TPP, given that Washington and Seoul have a high-standard, one-on-one free trade agreement in place.
The U.S. aims to complete the negotiations by the end of this year.