South Korea mulling U.S.-led TPP trade initiative: report

YOKOHAMA, Japan (Reuters) - South Korea is considering joining a U.S.-led Asia-Pacific free trade initiative, the Transpacific Partnership (TPP), although its potential effectiveness is uncertain, President Lee Myung-bak was quoted as saying in a Japanese newspaper on Sunday.

Lee also told Japan’s Asahi newspaper in an interview that North Korea’s denuclearization was a priority for him when considering possible talks with the North Korean leader. Economic cooperation with Pyongyang would come next, he added.

Lee is attending the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum meeting in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, where leaders are trying to accelerate trade integration in the region.

APEC leaders are expected to pledge to take steps to create a vast Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) covering a region that accounts for 44 percent of the world’s trade and 53 percent of global economic output.

One of the building blocks for the FTAAP is the TPP, which so far plans to link nine nations.

“There is a symbolic effect, but I am not sure about the real effect,” Lee said in the interview, when asked his view on the TPP.

“But APEC member countries in the region are moving toward free trade and all the countries are considering (the TPP), and South Korea is one of them,” Lee added.

On the possibility of holding talks with Pyongyang, Lee said the denuclearization of North Korea was vital.

“As I have been saying since I took office, there can be a leaders’ meeting if we can maintain peace on the Korean peninsula and achieve the denuclearization of North Korea,” Lee said.

Reporting by Yoko Nishikawa; Editing by Edmund Klamann