Australia seals free trade agreement with South Korea

SYDNEY (AFP) - The Australian government on Thursday announced it has secured a free trade agreement with Asian giant South Korea after four years of negotiations.

South Korea is Australia's third-largest export market and Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the deal would see tariffs of up to 300 per cent gradually eliminated on key Australian agricultural exports such as beef, wheat, sugar and dairy.

Tariffs will also go on resources, energy and manufactured goods, while the deal will open the door to new market opportunities for Australian services in education and telecommunications.

"As a result of the agreement, tariffs will be eliminated on Australia's major exports to Korea and there will be significant new market openings in services and investment," Abbott said.

"The FTA (free trade agreement) translates to higher economic growth and more jobs for Australians."

Bilateral trade between Australia and South Korea reached A$32 billion (S$36.23 billion) in 2012 and Abbott said "this agreement will help take that to a new level".

Independent modelling shows the FTA would be worth A$5 billion between 2015 and 2030 and boost the Australian economy by about A$650 million annually after 15 years, he added.

Abbott's conservative government has made concluding free trade deals with South Korea, Japan and China a centrepiece of its international diplomatic efforts.

Talks continue with Tokyo and Beijing on those agreements.

Australia already has several bilateral FTA pacts, including with Singapore, Thailand and the United States, and National Farmers' Federation chief Brent Finlay said the Korean breakthrough would be a boon for farmers.

"While the deal doesn't deliver everything the Australian agricultural sector had advocated for, it is a strong step towards securing Australia's important trading future with Korea and in improving international market access for Australian agricultural goods," he said.