FTA unfinished business for outgoing envoy
New Zealand Ambassador to Korea Richard Mann wrapped up his three-year posting here with a small farewell reception with colleagues, local staff and friends at the New Zealand Embassy in Seoul, Thursday.
Mann said re-starting free trade negotiations was his top priority as New Zealand’s chief representative in Korea, and it remains unfinished business. Free trade agreement (FTA) talks started in earnest in 2009 with four rounds concluded in quick succession, but momentum fizzled out the following year. The last round was in 2010.
Mann said he is particularly concerned that, with the Korea-EU and Korea-U.S. free trade deals, New Zealand’s companies could suffer from “trade diversion” in which Korea-New Zealand trade gets diverted to America and Europe.
“We are concerned that without an FTA in place our market could be gradually diminished,” he said in an interview with The Korea Times before the reception Thursday.
Korea is New Zealand’s fifth largest trading partner, so it has a lot to potentially lose. Bilateral trade is about $2 billion annually.
Mann said he recognized that for Korea, agriculture is a sensitive area.
New Zealand agricultural goods make up just 3 percent of such products imported in Korea.
New Zealand beef is grass fed and, therefore, qualitatively different from what most local cattle ranchers produce, he said.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Seoul and Auckland on March 1, 1962. Signing an FTA will be the No. 1 goal of New Zealand’s next ambassador to Korea.
Mann and wife Michelle depart today for a three-week vacation and then head to the New Zealand capital Auckland.
Mann is to be replaced by Patrick Rata, who will arrive in early February. Rata is currently at the World Trade Organization in Geneva. He was in charge of the Japan and Koreas Unit at New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He previously held postings to the New Zealand High Commission in London and for his country at the United Nations in New York.
Envoy looks to Yeosu Expo on national day
Australian Ambassador to Korea Sam Gerovich hosted a reception Thursday at the Australian Embassy in Seoul marking the conclusion of the “Australia-Korea Year of Friendship 2011.” The event was designed to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic ties between the two nations and Australia’s participation in the Yeosu Expo 2012.
Australia held 50 events for the 50th anniversary of Australia-Korea relations, including film, photography and other art exhibitions, as well as performances and academic lectures. Nobel Laureate Barry Marshall and Tim Flannery, 2007 Australian of the Year, visited Korea especially for the year of friendship.
The year of cultural events celebrated the bilateral ties culminated in a visit by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in November.
Kevin Nixon, Australia’s commissioner for the Yeosu Expo 2012, invited the assembled guests to visit Australia’s National Pavilion for its dedicated National Day event on May 27.
Gerovich said during a welcome speech that Korea and Australia have become particularly close “middle power” partners, a relationship “underpinned by our shared alliance with the United States, by our common values and by our closely aligned strategic outlook and interests.”
The two countries are deeply connected by strong trade and investment relations, too. Korea is Australia’s fourth largest trading partner and Australia is Korea’s third largest export market.
Bilateral trade was about $32 billion in 2011, a 25 percent increase over the previous year. Korea is the second largest importer of liquefied natural gas in the world and has longed coveted new and geopolitically safe sources.
Bilateral investment has surged to $16 billion annually, a seven fold in the decade to 2010. Major Korean investors in Australia include SK, POSCO and KORES and ANZ and Macquarie have become significant players in the Korean market.
Australia is seeking a free trade deal with Korea, and the embassy has been working in earnest to re-start stalled negotiations.