BEIJING, June 1 (Xinhua) -- China and the Republic of Korea (ROK) signed a free trade agreement (FTA) in Seoul on Monday, marking another concrete step taken by the two Asian neighbors to consolidate all-round cooperation.

Prior to the agreement by Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng and his ROK counterpart Yoon Sang-jick, more than a dozen rounds of FTA negotiations had been held since May 2012 between the two countries.

Under the accord, ROK will eliminate tariffs on 92 percent of all products from China within 20 years after the implementation while China will abolish tariffs on 91 percent of all South Korean goods.

The deal will be implemented after getting approval from parliaments of both countries.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Park Geun-hye exchanged letters on Monday to re-confirm their support and expectations for the FTA.

Xi said the FTA will bring a leap forward in the bilateral trade relationship, substantially benefit the people of both countries and further contribute to economic integration of East Asia and the Asia-Pacific region, as well as global economic development.

Park said that the deal is a historic landmark which will deepen the bilateral strategic cooperative partnership and serve as an institutional framework for future cooperation.

The FTA, the largest bilateral free trade deal for China in terms of trade volume, covers 17 areas, including trade in goods and services, investment and trade rules as well as e-commerce and government procurement.

Analysts hailed the FTA as a most high-quality free trade pact that China has reached with another country, which is expected to generate new growth engines for the two countries.

China is ROK's largest trading partner. Bilateral trade between the two countries reached 235.4 billion U.S. dollars in 2014.

ROK's Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy predicted the FTA would boost the country's real GDP by 0.96 percent while creating some 53,800 new jobs in the 10 years following its implementation.

Mutually-beneficial pact

Zhao Jinping, a researcher at the Development Research Center of the State Council, a government think tank, told Xinhua the China-ROK FTA represents a higher level of trade liberalization and market opening-up compared to other FTAs China has reached.

"China and the ROK are each other's significant trade and investment destinations, the free trade pact are poised to deepen bilateral economic and trade cooperation," Zhao said.

Advanced manufacturing, film and television production, healthcare for the elderly are among the sectors that the two countries are looking for complementary cooperation.

The Chinese Ministry of Commerce said it would carry out a series of activities to stimulate mutual investments in those sectors.

In industries such as semiconductor and chips, Chinese enterprises could draw experience from their ROK peers, whereas China's huge tourism and retail market will offer fresh opportunities for ROK players, noted Bai Ming, a senior researcher with a commerce ministry think tank.

The deepening industrial cooperation, combined with a more integrated market, will reshape and upgrade the industrial value chains in both countries, analysts said.

To facilitate the integration, the commerce ministry said it will cooperate with agencies of the ROK to support the building of industrial parks in China for enterprises of both sides.

The governments of Changzhou, Weifang, Weihai, Wenzhou and Yantai intend to set up China-ROK industrial parks.

More FTAs underway

Monday's FTA signing marked a step forward in China's efforts to promote regional integration.

"The China-ROK FTA is in line with the trend of regional economic integration in the world economy, and will create a positive impact on regional economic cooperation in East Asia," Zhao said.

Earlier last month, China, Japan and ROK started the 7th round of negotiations on a trilateral free trade agreement (FTA) in Seoul. The trilateral FTA, if signed, will become one of the most significant free trade pacts in the region.

In addition, China also eyes wrapping up talks for an updated version of the free trade area between China and ASEAN countries, as well as talks for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) by the end of 2015.

The RCEP is a multilateral FTA that will include China, the Republic of Korea, Japan and 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as well as India, Australia and New Zealand.

Gao revealed earlier this year that China is considering FTA talks or has begun FTA consultations with some countries or regions in South Asia, Central Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe.

So far, the country has established FTAs with more than 20 countries and regions in the world.

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