South Korean President Moon Jae In said Tuesday that the country will consider joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact.

It is the first time the South Korean leader has raised the possibility of Asia's fourth-largest economy joining the 11-member trade pact, according to local media.

In his remarks at a trade-related event in Seoul, Moon referred to the possibility after speaking of the need to beef up the country's trade at a time when trading volumes have fallen sharply worldwide due to the coronavirus pandemic.

China's President Xi Jinping recently pledged to positively consider joining the free trade pact.

The TPP, formally known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, entered into force in December 2018. It covers about 13 percent of the world's gross domestic product, grouping Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

The United States withdrew shortly after President Donald Trump took office.

Other countries, including the United Kingdom, which is looking to forge its own trade deals after leaving the European Union, have also expressed interest in joining the TPP.

Japan's top government spokesman welcomed any interest in joining the trade pact but said potential members should be prepared to accede to the TPP's high standards for market access and trade rules.

"We will be closely watching any economies that show interest in joining, while steadily working to implement and expand" the trade pact, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a press conference in Tokyo.

Last month, 15 Asia-Pacific countries including China, Japan, South Korea and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations signed the world's largest free trade deal -- the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

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