Hanoi (VNA) – Cambodia and the Republic of Korea (RoK) agreed on July 9 to launch official negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA), paving the way for the RoK, Asia's No. 4 economy, to make further inroads into the Southeast Asian market and boost exports.

According to Yonhap News Agency, the announcement came more than a year after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen proposed making preparations for a free trade deal during his summit with RoK President Moon Jae-in in Phnom Penh in March 2019.

The two countries have carried out a joint feasibility study over the first five months of this year.

RoK Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee said in a statement that amid the spread of COVID-19, it has become more important for his country to expand cooperation with Southeast Asian countries.

She noted the RoK is pleased to launch FTA negotiations with Cambodia, which can potentially rise as the new hub of production and trade in ASEAN, adding that the two countries will make efforts to come up with a meaningful result within this year.

The two sides are likely to hold their first round of talks in July.

Their trade volume reached an all-time high of 1 billion USD in 2019, up 6 percent from a year earlier. That included 697 million USD of the RoK’s shipments, up 5.5 percent on-year, according to the data compiled by the Korea International Trade Association.

The increase was significant as the Northeast Asian country’s annual exports fell more than 10 percent year-on-year in 2019 amid the trade row between the US and China./.