|South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott shake hands after agreeing Tuesday to bolster security and defense cooperation between the two countries as their trade ministers signed an FTA. (Yonhap)|
South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott agreed Tuesday to bolster security and defense cooperation between the two countries as their trade ministers signed a pact to free up trade between two of the biggest Asia-Pacific economies.
Abbott arrived earlier in the day from Japan, where he announced the conclusion of free trade talks with Tokyo on Monday. One of the main purposes of his two-day visit to South Korea is to sign the free trade pact with Seoul that was concluded after five years of negotiations.
Free trade was among the key topics for Park's talks with Abbott, along with ways to boost political and security cooperation. After the summit, the two leaders attended a ceremony where their trade ministers signed the free trade accord.
The deal was concluded after seven rounds of negotiations since 2009.
The two countries also adopted a joint statement committing themselves to greater security and defense cooperation to cope with regional and global security challenges. Under the "Vision Statement on a Secure, Peaceful and Prosperous Future," the two sides also urged North Korea to give up all its nuclear programs and abide by its denuclearization commitments.
Australia also welcomed Park's vision for promoting peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia and stressed the importance of unification on the Korean Peninsula and the need for improvement in North Korea's human rights records, according to the statement.
The trade deal with Australia is the 11th of its kind South Korea has signed so far.
The resources-scarce South Korea relies mainly on exports for growth and has pushed aggressively for free trade deals with other nations. The country has already FTAs with the United States, the 28-nation European Union and the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Australia is the 48th nation for South Korea to sign a free trade deal with. The latest deal also expanded the size of markets South Korea can access readily via free trade pacts from the current 55.2 percent to 57.3 percent of the global gross domestic product, officials said.
Australia and South Korea are among the largest economies in the Asia-Pacific region. But their bilateral trade has remained relatively small at $32.3 billion. The free trade deal is expected to significantly boost trade and investment between the two sides, officials said.
Officials also said Australia is an ideal free trade partner for South Korea because the two economies are mutually supplementary. Australia mainly exports raw materials and energy resources while South Korea's main exports are cars and manufactured goods.
Korean auto exports, which account for 20.5 percent of the country's total exports to Australia, are expected to benefit greatly from the pact. The agreements calls for immediately removing the 5 percent tariffs Australia imposes on imports of gasoline-powered Korean cars with engines up to 3 liters. (Yonhap)