South Korea says aims to sign free trade deal with Australia in first-half 2014

SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korea and Australia aim to formally sign a bilateral trade agreement within the first half of this year, the Korean trade ministry said on Thursday, pushing forward a deal between two major economies in the Asia-Pacific region.

South Korea's Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said in a statement the chief negotiators of the two countries initialled the free trade agreement on Monday.

Australia and South Korea have agreed to work towards signing the free trade agreement in the first half of 2014 after "expeditiously" completing the required domestic procedures, according to the joint statement issued by the Korean trade ministry.

Australia is South Korea's seventh largest trading partner, with two-way trade totalling US$30.3 billion (S$38.35 billion) in 2013.

Once ratified, the trade agreement is expected to boost Australia's farm exports while Korean automakers and other manufacturers will benefit from tariff reductions to boost their sales in Australia.