By Kang Yoon-seung
SEOUL, July 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korea said Tuesday it will speed up efforts to expand its free trade agreement (FTA) networks to overcome the economic jitters sparked by the new coronavirus pandemic.
"South Korea will not only focus on opening markets but seek to build a sustainable partnership with developing nations on the back of FTAs," Industry Minister Sung Yun-mo said during a conference with business organizations and companies held in Seoul.
The remark came amid concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic is putting strains on Asia's No. 4 economy as it depends heavily on exports.
South Korea's exports fell 10.9 percent in June marking the fourth consecutive month of decline amid the fallout from the new coronavirus pandemic. The country's outbound shipments already suffered from the Sino-American trade war in 2019.
Exports dropped 12.8 percent on-year in the first 20 days of July as well.
With exports to the world's top two economies accounting for roughly 40 percent of its outbound shipments, the country has been making efforts to diversify its trade portfolio and create deeper ties with Southeast Asian countries.
Earlier this month, South Korea and Cambodia agreed to launch official negotiations for an FTA. In January, Seoul and Manila held the fifth round of official negotiations for their FTA. Talks with Malaysia are also in progress.
The FTAs will also help South Korea to speed up its exports of medical supplies, whose global demand has shot up due to the virus pandemic, according to the ministry. Shipments of biohealth products jumped a whopping 53 percent in June from a year earlier.
South Korea vowed to make efforts to eliminate travel uncertainties for businesses as well.
The country said it will launch discussions on adopting what it calls a "pandemic-free passport," with major trading partners to minimize travel restrictions on business officials.
South Korea, which adopted a "fast-track" entry system to minimize the travel restrictions sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic with China, said it plans to expand the program to Singapore, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).