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President Roh Visits New Zealand
Free Trade Agreement with South Korea no certainty
Rich Bowden (sremmah)     Print Article 
Published 2006-12-09 15:21 (KST)   
Exploratory talks on a mutual free trade agreement were held in Wellington, NZ yesterday between South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark, with both leaders agreeing to a joint study to examine the feasibility of such an accord amid warnings that such a deal could be a long way off.

President Roh, though endorsing the study, warned that the process of convincing the Korean people of the benefits of the free trade agreement would take time, particularly with respect to the Korean agricultural sector where farmers may see an influx of cheap New Zealand products such as meat, dairy and seafood into the South Korean market as damaging to their own livelihood.

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Speaking through an interpreter following the talks President Roh said that, though he did not believe a free trade agreement would necessarily interfere with South Korea's domestic agricultural market, he believed that "it will take some time for my government to persuade the public of the need for an FTA."

Earlier in the year, the head of New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade North Asia Division, David Taylor warned that South Korea was not yet ready for a free trade deal with New Zealand, with the nation's powerful agricultural sector opposing any such deal.

"Agriculture is a very sensitive area in Korea," said Mr. Taylor, "and despite the fact we are not a rice-producing nation, we are seen as a threat." Currently South Korea's tariff on imported agricultural goods is 52 percent.

Prime Minister Clark talked up the deal saying it was in the best interests of New Zealand trade and would establish the basis "of a truly 21st-century relationship." The free trade proposal comes in the wake of the collapse of similar negotiations between the U.S. and South Korea this week following disagreements between negotiators over anti-dumping regulations.

With trade between the South Korea and New Zealand for the 2005/2006 financial year worth approximately US$1.4 billion, the two leaders agreed for their respective foreign ministers to hold talks on a yearly basis and encourage stronger business relationships between the two nations. The two also signed an agreement which will strengthen cultural, sporting, environmental and technological ties.

President Roh is in New Zealand until Sunday as part of his tour of Asian and Pacific countries.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Rich Bowden

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