(ATTN: ADDS Moon's remarks at business forum in paras 18-21, new photo)
By Kim Deok-hyun
CAIRO, Jan. 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Thursday he will make joint efforts with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for the conclusion of negotiations for a deal to sell Seoul's K-9 self-propelled howitzers to the African state.
Moon made the remarks during a joint announcement on the conclusion of his talks with the Egyptian president, raising hopes for another K-9 howitzer export deal, following a 1.9-trillion won contract signed during Moon's visit to Australia last month.
The two leaders agreed that a deal on K-9 howitzers is "an achievement of defense cooperation based on mutual trust between the two nations and K9 self-propelled artillery greatly contributes to enhancing the Egyptian military's power," Moon said.
Moon said he and the Egyptian president agreed to "work together to reach a final conclusion" of the ongoing negotiations on K-9 howitzers.
If the deal is struck, it would mark the first export of the K-9 howitzers to a Middle Eastern or African country. South Korea has exported the K-9 Thunder howitzers to Turkey, Poland, India, Norway, Finland, Estonia and Australia.
A senior presidential official at Moon's office told reporters that South Korea and Egypt continue to be in last minute negotiations although summit talks between Moon and the Egyptian president were over.
Kang Eun-ho, head of Korea's Defense Acquisition Program Administration, and his Egyptian counterpart were ordered to engage in "negotiations until the last minute" by the two leaders during the summit talks, the senior official said on condition of anonymity.
Asked whether the two sides could reach a deal before Moon wraps up his visit to Egypt on Friday, the official replied that a deal may be possible.
"We are cautiously watching the result of the negotiations," the official said.
During the summit, the two leaders also agreed to conduct a joint feasibility study on a bilateral free trade agreement, taking the first step toward a deal as Seoul and Cairo seek to deepen economic cooperation.
An FTA with Egypt, if realized, would mark South Korea's first free trade pact with an African country.
Bilateral trade between South Korea and Egypt has been on the rise in recent years and stood at US$2.3 billion last year. South Korea's accumulated investment into Egypt reached $730 million at the end of last year.
Moon and the Egyptian president also signed a memorandum of understanding that calls for Seoul to provide a soft loan worth $1 billion to Egypt over the next five years.
The loan is expected to fund construction and infrastructure projects in Egypt, including upgrading railway networks and building desalination plants, according to Korean officials.
Besides, the two leaders agreed to expand the scope of existing cooperation in space, defense, cultural and people-to-people exchanges, according to the statement.
Moon also asked Egypt to support South Korea's bid to host the World Expo in the port city of Busan in 2030.
Moon's visit to Cairo marked the first trip by a South Korean president to the North African nation in 16 years.
Later in the day, Moon attended a business forum where South Korean and Egyptian companies plan to discuss ways on how to strengthen cooperation in areas related to electric cars, information technology and transportation.
Moon told the business forum that Egypt, where about half of its population is 30 years old or younger, has the potential for great economic development.
"Korea will explore the future of a post-pandemic era with fast-growing Egypt," Moon said.
To that end, South Korea and Egypt need to strengthen cooperation in electric cars, eco-friendly buildings and efforts to tackle climate change, Moon said.
Egypt is the final leg of Moon's tri-nation trip that took him to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, Moon told an Arabic newspaper that South Korea and Egypt could enjoy mutual benefits if they sign a free trade deal.
"Egypt is expanding opportunities for Korea to enter the African market, while Korea is expanding opportunities for Egypt to enter the Asian market," Moon said in the interview, which was published earlier in the day.