The ambassador of New Zealand to Korea said a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with his country won't hurt farmers here.
"New Zealand is not a threat to Korean farmers," Ambassador Patrick Rata told The Korea Times during an interview on Oct. 24.
His comment came two days after the New Zealand's Trade Minister Tim Groser met his counterpart Bark Tae-ho in Seoul to discuss resumption of FTA negotiations, which have been on hold since May 2010.
"We do not produce rice. We do not export fresh milk to Korea. Our beef is different ― grass beef rather than grain beef. Our agricultural products are counter seasonal," Rata said. "There's no competition. Our competition in the Korean market is primarily other countries also importing into Korea, not Korean farmers."
Although the New Zealand economy is diversified, the agricultural sector remains strong. Dairy products, meat and fish are among the top exporting commodities.
According to the Korea International Trade Association, however, meat and processed dairy products are high on New Zealand's exporting list to Korea, which poses a threat to farmers and the government, which has measures to protect them.
Beef and rice are two very sensitive items when it comes to opening up the Korean market for foreign goods, and negotiations with a country with a strong agriculture-backed economy are always sensitive.
The ambassador whose priority in Korea is the conclusion of the deal emphasized New Zealand is looking at diversifying export items through the trade accord, instead of bombarding Korea with dairy products and meat.
In a telephone interview, a Korean official from the FTA policy bureau at the foreign ministry said the gap between the two sides was still big. And it will still be awhile until the negotiation can resume. "But we continue to talk," the official said, refusing to identify himself for the article.
Rata also remained optimistic. "New Zealand and Korea are committed to concluding an FTA."
For both countries, trade is a significant part of their economic growth. Nearly 90 percent of Korea's economy depends on trading, whereas it's nearly 45 percent for New Zealand.
Resuming the negotiations will be a big boost to Korea-New Zealand ties, which this year celebrate their 50th anniversary.
The agreement for opening up the diplomatic relations was signed in 1962, but the Korean War (1950-1953) can't go unnoticed when it comes to the bilateral relations.
Almost 6,000 New Zealand soldiers were dispatched during the three-year period with 45 lives lost.
The commercial activities between the two countries have grown exponentially over the years. Last year, the entire trade volume reached almost $3 billion, with an over $2 million trade deficit on the Korean side.
The defining character in the Korea-New Zealand relations is people, especially a growing number of Koreans moving to New Zealand.
It has been an attractive destination for Korean students who were looking for an education opportunity abroad. Likewise, the number of Korean immigrants has also been increasing since the early 2000s, which the ambassador appreciated. "We welcome Korea's contribution."
The anniversary year keeps Rata busy. The most recent event was a traditional performance by the indigenous Maori group on Oct. 23 in downtown Seoul. He said he was pleased with the reception the group received from Korean audience.
Looking into future, the ambassador hoped for cooperation in the Antarctica. New Zealand is one of the eight nations that lays claim over parts of the 14 million square kilometers land of the earth's southernmost continent.
He wished the best for Korea's research center project in the Antarctica. Undertaken by the Korea Polar Research Institute, Jang Bogo Station is under construction with an aim to operate from February 2014. It is the second research center, following the King Sejong Station which opened in 1988.