The three ministers confirmed they would complete within two years a feasibility study on creating the trade bloc, said the statement issued after the ministers' weekend meeting in Seoul.
Trade ministers Kim Jong-Hoon of South Korea, Chen Deming of China and Masayuki Naoshima of Japan met to prepare for next weekend's summit on South Korea's southern island of Jeju.
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The three-nation summit on May 29 and 30 will be attended South Korea's President Lee Myung-Bak, Japan's Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and China's Premier Wen Jiabao.
"We reaffirm the importance of the trilateral investment framework, which will be instrumental to further strengthening economic partnership among the three countries," said the trade ministers' statement.
President Lee has previously called on Beijing to work towards a free-trade agreement in the region, with similar negotiations between Seoul and Tokyo under way since 2004.
The three trade ministers also discussed ways to cooperate in preparing for this year