Posted : 2013-10-07 20:06
Updated : 2013-10-07 20:06

Korea, Canada seek to sign FTA talks

President Park Geun-hye, left, shakes hands with Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper ahead of a one-on-one meeting during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bali, Indonesia, Monday. They agreeed to finalize a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) by the end of this year.
/ Yonhap

By Kim Tae-gyu

BALI, Indonesia ― President Park Geun-hye had one-on-one talks Monday with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to agree to wrap up long-stalled free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations between Seoul and Ottawa this year.

At the two leaders' first summit on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings here, the two came up with the ambitious objective of establishing stronger bilateral economic relations.

"During the half-hour meetings, the two talked in-depth about the FTA, a foremost interest for both countries today," Foreign Affairs Minister Yun Byung-se said.

"As there has been little progress in the negotiations, the two sides agreed to take proactive attitudes after the summit so that they will be able to strike the FTA deal this year."

Toward that end, Yun said that the status of top negotiators will be upgraded to deputy vice ministers unlike the past when director generals represented the two allies.

"Park and Harper talked about innovative ways of finishing the FTA discussions. In the near future, high-level officials are expected to sit at the table."

Korea started the FTA negotiation with Canada in 2005 but failed to iron out differences, due mostly to imports of inexpensive Canadian farm produce and beef to Korea.

Canada wanted to eliminate or substantially cut down tariffs on such items while Korea has been very cautious against the idea out of consideration for the country's farmers.

"As the FTA between Korea and the United States went into effect last year, the opening of the agricultural markets to Canada would not have that big effect on our farmers," said a foreign ministry official. "Hence, we are positive about the prospects of reaching an agreement soon."

Separately, Park also had summits with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala Monday. Korea also strives to sign an FTA with the former.

A Cheong Wa Dae official said that Asia's No. 4 economy tries to speed up the FTA talks with Canada and Mexico, the two big countries that take part in the trans-pacific partnership (TPP).

Up to 12 countries ― Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Japan, Vietnam and the U.S. ― are members of the new type of trade agreement geared toward tackling not only tariffs but also non-tariff barriers to trade.

The U.S. has spearheaded the push for the TPP agreement, which already covers approximately 40 percent of world trade and this has continued to expand rapidly. Against this backdrop, Korea's stance also grabbed attention.

"In our free trade pacts with such countries as the U.S., Peru and Chile now running, we need to sign new ones with big economies in the TPP like Canada or Mexico," said the official who asked not to be named.

"Then, we will be able to chalk up the effects of joining the TPP. When necessary, we will be able to join the agreement without major difficulties because the FTAs with major members are already in place."

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