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S. Korea, New Zealand strike free trade deal

South Korea and New Zealand announced Saturday that they have struck a free trade agreement to boost trade and economic cooperation between the two countries.

The announcement, made on the sidelines of a summit of the Group of 20 advanced and emerging economies in this Australian city, wrapped up more than five years of tough negotiations between the two countries. South Korea is a G-20 member but New Zealand was invited to the Brisbane summit as a guest.

"The FTA will provide a basis to further expand and develop bilateral investment and trade," South Korean President Park Geun-hye said in a joint news conference with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.

Key also welcomed the agreement, calling it a win-win deal.

Under the agreement, South Korea and New Zealand will remove tariffs on more than 96 percent of all products traded between within 20 years of the deal taking effect presumably next year.

Among other things, the deal will allow South Korean goods to compete in New Zealand on a more equal footing with their competitors from other countries. New Zealand has so far signed free trade agreements with 15 other countries, including China, Australia, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

South Korea and New Zealand plan to hold a legal review before formally signing a deal on the free trade agreement early next year, according to South Korea. The deal is subject to parliamentary ratification in both capitals before taking effect.

New Zealand agreed to immediately remove tariffs on South Korean washing machines and tires, and eliminate tariffs on auto parts, heavy construction equipment and refrigerators within three years of the deal coming into force.

The two sides agreed to exclude rice, a key staple food for Koreans, and other sensitive agricultural produce, including apples, garlic and chili peppers, from the deal.

The deal could help boost South Korea's exports to New Zealand, which heavily relies on imports for most industrial products, South Korea said.

South Korea is New Zealand's 41st-largest trading partner and New Zealand is South Korea's 44th-largest trading partner.

Bilateral trade between the countries totaled US$2.8 billion last year.

Also Saturday, Park shared South Korea's experience of lifting regulations with other global leaders at a retreat session of the

G-20 summit. Park also said she will reduce regulations that do not relate to people's lives and safety by 20 percent by 2017.

The summit, which runs through Sunday, brought together U.S.

President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin and other top world leaders for talks on a wide-ranging agenda, including global economy, climate and jobs.

"The determination of the G-20 leadership to raise the growth by more than 2 percent in the next five years is a step in the right direction," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a news conference.

Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey said he is "optimistic our 2 percent commitment will deliver the growth the world needs."

Also Saturday, Ban called for quick and decisive actions to cut emissions of heat-trapping gases that scientists blame for global warming.

"Climate change is the defining issue of our times, therefore it is only natural that G-20 leaders should focus much more on this as part of making this world sustainable in three dimensions: economic, social and environmental," Ban said.

Ban also urged Obama, Putin and European leaders to discuss the Ukrainian conflict on the margins of this G-20 summit to address the issue, "harmoniously, peacefully, through dialogue," noting that tensions and violence in that southeastern area of Ukraine is not helpful at all, not only for world peace and security but also for world economy.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy called on Russia to stop the inflow of weapons and troops from its territory into Ukraine. 

"Russia must withdraw those already present," he said. "We will continue to use all diplomatic tools, including sanctions, at our disposal." (Yonhap)