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Call for closer S. Korea-ASEAN links

SOUTH Korean President Lee Myung-bak called yesterday for closer business and cultural ties with Southeast Asia to create a common economic community that is a leader in green growth.

Lee, who invited leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to commemorate 20 years of relations between South Korea and the bloc, hailed the expansion of their economic ties.

Total trade has grown 11 times over the past two decades to US$90.2 billion last year, he said, and is expected to increase to US$150 billion by 2015.

"We must strengthen our economic partnership, expand cultural exchange and become partners in our common goal of taking the lead in the new era of green growth," Lee told businessmen ahead of a summit today and tomorrow. "We have the vast potential for future growth."

The two sides have concluded free trade agreements in goods and services and plan to sign an investment accord at the summit.

"We must strive to become one business and economic community where business is done in a free environment," said Lee, who also called for an increase in tourism and student exchanges between his country and ASEAN. He said 3.2 million South Koreans already travel to the region annually.

The bloc is South Korea's third-largest trading partner and second-largest foreign investment destination. South Korea is the grouping's fifth-largest trading partner.

Lee's idea of an economic community falls short of the integration of the European Union but comes as he has urged world leaders to avoid protectionist measures amid the global economic slowdown.

He acknowledged that the current global crisis may tempt some to erect barriers but said that must be avoided to help foster an early recovery.

"We must do all that we can to reject such temptations," he said.

Lee, who has been pushing the idea of green growth at home as a way to create jobs, said South Korea will work with Southeast Asian countries on environmental initiatives, including the development of renewable energy and forestation projects.

ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.


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