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Australia joins queue for trade deal

Korea Times

Australia Joins Queue for Trade Deal

By Park Song-wu, Staff Reporter

9 February 2006

Canberra hopes to reach a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Seoul, Peter Rowe, Australia’s new ambassador to South Korea, said on Thursday. He also underlined that the bilateral trade deal would not hurt South Korea’s agriculture industry.

``I think we need to be looking at an FTA with (South) Korea,’’ Rowe, who took office in Seoul in January, told reporters at his residence. ``We need to look at how we can position our relationship for developments in the 21st century.’’

In 2005, South Korea was Australia’s third largest export market after Japan and China, and the fourth largest trading partner after Japan, China and the United States.

Australia currently has FTAs with the United States, New Zealand, Thailand and Singapore. It is negotiating trade deals with China, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates, and is engaged in an FTA feasibility study with Japan.

Fully aware of South Koreans’ concern that an FTA with a strong agricultural power like Australia could possibly threaten the domestic agricultural industry, the 56-year-old ambassador tried to assure that there are ``not many things’’ both sides are competing for in agriculture.

``We are not a big rice producer,’’ he said. ``Our beef doesn’t really compete with Hanu, or Korean beef. Koreans prefer Hanu beef and every last bit of it gets sold. Australian beef is simply filling in the gap in the demand that local industry can’t meet.’’

Rowe said a South Korea-Australia FTA could benefit South Korea in legal, educational and financial service industries as Australia has ``high-quality’’ services in those areas.

He also hoped that the bilateral trade pact would give South Koreans greater access to Australian goods. But he underlined that it is a win-win situation for both sides.

``(The greater access) applies on the Korean side too,’’ he said. ``The only area where real tariffs remain in Australia are cars. So a Free Trade Agreement would lower the tariffs on (Korean) cars. They are very popular in Australia so sales will really increase.’’

As for the commencement of a South Korea-U.S. FTA negotiation early this month, in which Washington is also expected to focus on enhancing its market accessibility to service areas, Rowe said his country is concerned about it.

``We do worry about that and have expressed that concern,’’ he said.

On political situations on the Korean Peninsula, he said, ``This area has a potential impact’’ on Australia’s security.

``If things go wrong here, it would have quite an incalculable effect or harmful effect, I think, on Australia’s independent actions and ability to act autonomously in the world,’’ he said. ``That’s why we pay close attention in this area.’’

He said North Korea’s long-range missiles could hit the northern part of Australia.

It is his seventh year to work in South Korea. The diplomat first worked at the Australian Embassy in Seoul as second secretary from 1983 to 1986, and returned in 1995 as deputy head of mission with a three-year tenure.