Monday 26 Oct 2020 | 20:52 | SYDNEY
Monday 26 Oct 2020 | 20:52 | SYDNEY

Australia and South Korea have a free trade deal


Graeme Dobell

14 October 2011 12:13

Australia has achieved something with South Korea that it can't get with China or Japan –  a Free Trade Agreement.

Marking the Australia-Korea dialogue in Canberra, the Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, told a dinner that the deal is just about done. Or in Rudd's words, the negotiations launched in March 2009 'are near to conclusion'.

When foreign ministers start using words like 'conclusion', consult the calendar for the next time leaders will be together. And some tempting spots immediately offer themselves next month. Prime Minister Julia Gillard and President Lee Myung-bak will be together at the G20 in France, at APEC in Hawaii and the East Asia Summit in Bali. It will be an interesting call whether to use APEC – the traditional economic venue — or the new institution, the East Asia Summit.

For a Prime Minister attempting to define the Asian Century, the deal will be something tangible to mix into the narrative. For President Lee, it will be a pleasant echo of his current triumphant visit to Washington, where Congress has just delivered on the long-delayed US-Korea Free Trade Agreement. The US thus gets its first free trade agreement with a major Asian economy (the largest since NAFTA in 1993) while South Korea matches the trade deal it has with the European Union.

That South Korean record hints at why Australia can achieve something with Seoul that is deadlocked in Beijing and struggling in Tokyo. The threshold for Australia is to get from South Korea the same sort of terms already negotiated with the US and Europe. That is Canberra's declared objective for the negotiations.

The relationship between President Lee and Rudd has already helped deliver big wins on other fronts, such as the push to make the G20 the premier international economic institution. As Rudd says, that personal chemistry gave the free trade negotiations a 'kick start'. And with the US having just delivered for South Korea, it looks like South Korea is able to do the same with Australia.

Photo by Flickr user KOREA.NET.