Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he intends to finalize a trade deal with South Korea on a trip starting Monday, after the two countries have struggled for more than eight years to reach an agreement.
Harper arrived in Seoul on Monday for a two-day visit. Harper will hold a summit with President Park Geun-hye Tuesday.
Reuters reported last week citing unnamed sources that the two sides were very close to signing a long-delayed free trade deal after years of talks.
“This is an important step forward not just for our economy but also for our relations with a country that has long been a friend and ally,” he said in a statement on his website Monday.
Harper said the deal would be Canada’s first in the Asia-Pacific region. South Korea is “a relatively open economy, a relatively very progressive economy, an advanced democracy, and it has trade linkages all through Asia itself,” he said.
“This is really the best gateway you can get into long-term trade agreement access into the Asia-Pacific region.”
Negotiators are finalizing details surrounding auto-safety standards required by the South Korean government, a person briefed on the talks said last week. U.S.-based automakers with operations in Canada, such as General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co., are concerned such standards could be used as indirect trade barriers, said the person, who asked not to be named because the negotiations are confidential.
The countries are discussing how to phase out tariffs on South Korean automobiles on Canadian imports of manufactured by companies such as Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp., and how to develop a dispute-settling mechanism, according to the person.
A pact with South Korea would be the latest trade agreement signed by Harper, who reached a deal in principle with the European Union in October.
Canada and South Korea started negotiations on a trade deal in 2005, with talks reaching an impasse in 2008. Two-way merchandise trade between the two countries neared C$10.1 billion ($9.1 billion) in 2012, according to Canadian government figures.
The Canadian Council of Chief Executives last month sent a letter to Trade Minister Ed Fast urging the deal be completed, noting that the U.S., the European Union and Australia had already concluded agreements with South Korea.
The two-day visit is his fourth trip to Seoul since December 2009.
Cheong Wa Dae said Harper and Park would discuss ways to cement strong bilateral relations and advance cooperation in sectors such as trade and investment, energy and resources, and science and forestry.
The two leaders are also expected to exchange views on the current situation in Northeast Asia, including the Korean Peninsula, it added.
It will be the second summit between the leaders. Park and Harper held their first meeting in Bali, Indonesia, in October last year on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
(From news reports)