South Korea, Australia to sign free trade deal on Tuesday

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea and Australia will sign a free trade deal this week, South Korean President Park Geun Hye said on Monday, after four years of negotiations on the pact.

"Tomorrow, we will sign a free trade agreement with Australia," Park said at a meeting of her top aides, according to a media pool report.

The deal will take South Korea's total number of free trade agreements to ten, involving a total of 47 countries, she said, with others including the United States, the European Union, Asean and India.

Trade minister Yoon Sang Jick and his Australian counterpart Andrew Robb are expected to sign the agreement when Park meets with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in Seoul on Tuesday as part of his East Asian tour.

The agreement calls for the two countries to remove tariffs on almost all goods traded within 10 years after the agreement goes into effect.

Australia will abolish a 5 per cent import tariff on most South Korea-made cars while a 5 per cent tariff on other South Korean exports such as TVs, refrigerators and machinery would also be eliminated immediately.

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 in December.

The deal will see tariffs of up to 300 per cent on key Australian agricultural exports such as beef, wheat, sugar and dairy gradually eliminated, Abbott said in December.

"The FTA (free trade agreement) translates to higher economic growth and more jobs for Australians" and will help take bilateral trade between Australia and South Korea "to a new level", he said.

Australia is South Korea's sixth largest trade partner in terms of bilateral trade, with the two-way trade volume surging to 30.3 billion dollars last year from 18 billion dollars in 2007.

South Korea's investment jumped tenfold to 1.69 billion dollars during the same period, making Australia its fifth largest destination for investment, according to South Korea's trade ministry.

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