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South Korea, Australia to begin study of free trade pact this year

Yonhap 2007/05/16

South Korea, Australia to begin study of free trade pact this year

SEOUL, May 16 (Yonhap) — South Korea and Australia will begin a joint study this year to explore a free trade agreement, a senior trade official said Wednesday.

"The study by private research institutions from both countries will be conducted this year," Deputy Trade Minister Kim Han-soo said at a meeting with business leaders, without giving an exact timetable.

"When the study is completed, government officials from the two sides will meet to set parameters for preliminary discussions," Kim said in a statement distributed by the Federation of Korean Industries, the meeting’s organizer. Kim’s ministry confirmed the plan.

"However, a cautious approach is needed in starting free trade talks with Australia because of sensitivity about agriculture," Kim said.

Kim’s comment was made in response to a request by the nation’s top business organization to quickly begin free trade talks with Australia.

Australia is South Korea’s eighth largest trading partner with two-way trade reaching some US$14 billion a year.

South Korea, fresh from a landmark free trade agreement with the United States last month, has been aggressively pushing for similar deals with other countries. Headed by the deputy trade minister, South Korea is now engaging in free trade talks with the European Union.

Some analysts say Australia’s beef producers may be a major loser from the agreement with the U.S. because it permits American beef exporters to resume selling meat to South Korea.

South Korea, once the world’s third-largest market for U.S. beef, banned imports of the American meat in late 2003, when a case of mad-cow disease was found in the U.S.

 source: Yonhap