South Korea's parliament on Monday ratified its free trade agreement (FTA) with China, taking an important step toward regional economic integration.
The ratification bill on the China-South Korea free trade accord was passed through the National Assembly by a majority of 196 to 33 with 36 abstentions.
China and South Korea signed the bilateral FTA in June after three years of negotiations. Under the deal, the two sides will eliminate tariffs on more than 90 percent of traded goods each within 20 years after implementation.
South Korea expected the free trade accord with China to raise its real GDP by 0.96 percentage points and create about 53,000 new jobs in the next 10 years.
The South Korean government said in a statement that it will make best efforts to implement the deal by minimizing necessary local procedures and closely consulting with the Chinese side.
Seoul anticipated that the FTA with China will help boost its exports, which have been suffering this year from the global economic slowdown. South Korea's export tumbled 15.9 percent in October from a year earlier, logging the biggest monthly reduction in more than six years.
The China-South Korea FTA is also expected to help accelerate regional economic integration.
"The (South) Korea-China FTA is a good starting point that leads to negotiations of the trilateral FTA between South Korea, China and Japan as well as of the RECP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership)," said Kim Young-Gui, research fellow at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP).
Kim said that the FTA will serve as growth engines for both countries, noting that the FTA will create a chance to boost bilateral trade and economic cooperation.
"The (South) Korea-China free trade agreement is now about a bilateral trade, but is anticipated to play a pivotal role that will affect Asia and the whole world," said Han Jae-Jin, a senior research fellow at Hyundai Research Institute.
Han said that the bilateral FTA has a significant meaning in the region as it will not confined to South Korea and China and can be connected to other Asian nations.
KIEP's another research fellow Lee Jang-Gyu also told Xinhua that the free trade accord has a significant meaning as it is the first bilateral FTA in Northeast Asia, saying that it opened door to various possibilities like trilateral FTA between Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo.
If the trilateral free trade accord, including Japan as well as China and South Korea, is inked, it would help further strengthen regional economic cooperation.
Economic cooperation between China and South Korea has expanded in the past 23 years since the two countries set up diplomatic ties in 1992. After the 2008 global financial crisis, Seoul and Beijing strengthened cooperation further via the won-yuan currency swap deal to stabilize foreign exchange market.
Now, China becomes South Korea's largest trading partner while Seoul is Beijing's third-biggest trading partner as a single country.
The parliamentary voting was conducted during a plenary session after wrangling between rival parties about the sensitive issue on how to protect farmers from possible damage following the FTA implementation.
Before leaving Seoul to participate in the 2015 United Nations climate change conference in Paris, South Korean President Park Geun-hye repeatedly urged lawmakers to ratify the deal rapidly, saying that the delayed ratification would make South Korean exporters lose an export opportunity worth about 4 billion won (3.5 million U.S. dollars) every day.
The rival parties finally reached a common ground on Monday, agreeing to 1.6 trillion won (1.4 billion U.S. dollars) worth of supplementary measures, including a 1-trillion-won fund to support farmers.