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Korea, Australia to ink FTA this year

Leaders agree to expedite negotiations, expand natural resources ties

President Lee Myung-bak and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard agreed during summit talks here Monday to conclude bilateral free trade deal negotiations this year, Lee’s office said.

“The leaders agreed that negotiations on an Australia-Korea free trade agreement were now in their final stage and reaffirmed their joint goal to conclude the negotiations this year,” Cheong Wa Dae said in a joint press statement. 
President Lee Myung-bak with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard ahead of their summit talks in Cheong Wa Dae on Monday. (Yonhap News)
President Lee Myung-bak with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard ahead of their summit talks in Cheong Wa Dae on Monday. (Yonhap News)

South Korea and Australia started FTA negotiations in March 2009 and have since held five rounds of talks, focusing on agriculture, services and autos, among other sectors.

Bilateral trade volume between the two countries amounted to $27 billion last year. South Korea, which imports a third of its total mineral resources from Australia, is the third-largest export market for the country.

Lee and Gillard also agreed to build on a mutually beneficial and stable partnership in trade and the development of natural resources while pushing for participation of Korean IT companies in Australia’s national broadband network project.

“Prime Minister Gillard expressed the hope that, following the signature of the Gladstone LNG contract between Santos and KOGAS, other LNG projects involving Australia and Korean companies could be brought to a successful conclusion in the near future,” the statement read.

Korea’s steelmaker POSCO imports much of its iron ore and coal from Australia’s BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto Group, two of the world’s three biggest mining houses by sales.

“President Lee expressed hope that Korean information technology companies with ample experience and cutting-edge technologies could participate in Australia’s National Broadband Network project,” the statement read.

Lee also welcomed Gillard’s announcement that Australia would contribute 10 million Australian dollars ($10.7 million) to the Global Green Growth Institute established by the Korean government last year to support the development of green growth strategies and policies in developing countries.

The two leaders agreed to work together and share information in international fora on nuclear safety and advance international climate change negotiations toward a strong, collective response. They also affirmed their readiness to continue to support quake-ridden Japan’s recovery efforts, according to the joint statement.

After the summit talks and a joint press conference, Gillard was to wrap up her three-day official visit to Korea later Monday after meeting with the USFK commander and attending an opening ceremony of an exhibition to commemorate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and Australia at the Seoul Museum of Art.

Gillard’s Seoul visit was timed to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of the establishment of Korea-Australia diplomatic relations, as well as the 60th anniversary of Australia’s participation in the Battle of Gapyeong.

Recalling a March 2009 joint statement on global and security cooperation between Australia and South Korea, the two leaders agreed that their foreign ministers would review cooperation under the framework of the joint statement when the Korean foreign minister visits Australia later this year.

Lee and Gillard also agreed that bilateral defense minister talks would be held on a regular basis, from this year, and that the two sides would work toward establishing a regular “2+2” meeting of foreign and defense ministers.

Lee also encouraged the Australian government to participate in the Yeosu Expo next year. The two leaders also agreed to work closely for the success of the upcoming Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness to be held late this year in Busan.

By Kim So-hyun (