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Korea, New Zealand sign free trade pact

South Korea and New Zealand signed a free trade agreement in Seoul on Monday, as part of efforts to expand bilateral ties in economy, science, defense and maritime affairs.

President Park Geun-hye and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key held a summit at Cheong Wa Dae and oversaw the signing of the deal. With the signing of the pact, New Zealand has become South Korea’s 13th bilateral free trade partner, officials said.

“The official signing of the free trade agreement has allowed the two countries to build a foundation for an upgraded cooperation not only in the field of economy but also in culture, human exchanges, security and international cooperation,” Park said.

President Park Geun-hye shakes hands with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key at a press conference at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)
President Park Geun-hye shakes hands with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key at a press conference at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)

The prime minister of New Zealand arrived in Seoul for a three-day trip on Sunday. It was his fourth visit to Asia’s fourth-largest economy since 2010.

The two sides concluded the deal in November during the G20 summit in Australia and will now request their parliaments to endorse it. Key said his government would work to get his parliament’s approval by September at the latest.

“The agreement also symbolizes both Korea and New Zealand’s commitment to economic openness and market integration in the Asia-Pacific region,” Key said at a joint press conference after the summit.

“I hope that ratifications can be completed by both countries this year so that New Zealand and Korea can start to receive the benefits of the agreement.”

Park also asked Key for his support over Seoul’s decision on a Washington-led regional free trade agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Key told Park that he would cooperate closely with Seoul on the progress of TPP negotiations. New Zealand has participated in the negotiations. South Korea has expressed its interest but has so far not been involved.

South Korea and New Zealand held seven rounds of negotiations since they began talks on the free trade pact in 2009.

The two sides were having difficulties in narrowing differences in the last stage of negotiations, but a phone call between Park and Key in August helped conclude the deal, the presidential office told reporters. Last year, the two leaders agreed to elevate the positions of negotiators to deputy ministers and devise “creative alternatives” to help the two fairly enjoy benefits of the free trade pact.

Under the pact, New Zealand’s import tariffs will be eliminated on 92 percent of all shipments from Korea in terms of their value and all tariffs on Korean products will be removed within seven years after the implementation of the deal. Korea will reciprocate by removing tariffs on 96.4 percent of shipments from New Zealand over a 15-year period.

The two sides have agreed to immediately lift tariffs on washing machines and auto parts over the next three years. However, they agreed to exclude some products from the deal, mostly agricultural goods that are considered very sensitive in Korea.

They also agreed to expand human exchanges in agricultural, livestock and Oriental medicine and seek new opportunities to jointly make inroads into emerging markets by strengthening cooperation between agricultural firms in both countries.

During the summit, Park and Key agreed to promote an institutional framework in maritime cooperation and promote the joint development of weapon systems, information technology and health care.

On maritime affairs, Korea has requested New Zealand to help Korean fishing fleets continue their operations in the country’s exclusive economic zone.

In 2014, bilateral trade between the two countries came to $3.2 billion, making New Zealand the 40th-largest trading partner of South Korea. New Zealand is the third-largest beef exporter to Korea, following Australia and the United States.

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldcorp.com)
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