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NZ in free trade talks with South Korea

Wednesday 15 Oct 2014 6:02 a.m.

Prime Minister John Key (Getty)

Prime Minister John Key (Getty)

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New Zealand and South Korean officials are holding free trade talks in Seoul for the next two days, as hopes rise for a deal to be concluded.

The talks, scheduled for today and tomorrow in Seoul, are the ninth round of talks aimed at concluding a free trade agreement, Yonhap news agency reported, citing a statement from the South Korean government's Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, or MOTIE.

Prime Minister John Key said before the September 20 election that conclusion of a Korea FTA was "close."

The new round of trade talks comes two months after officials ended the last round failing to agree on goods market access.

Seoul officials said there was disagreement over the level of market opening for the countries' agriculture and fishery industries, according to Yonhap.

"The two sides have agreed to work toward narrowing their differences on all remaining issues, including products, country of origin and co-operating, acknowledging a mutual need to conclude the Korea-New Zealand FTA talks at an early date," the Korean ministry said in a statement.

South Korea's Trade Minister Yoon Sang-jick told reporters last month that one more round of negotiations with New Zealand may be enough to secure an agreement, Yonhap said.

South Korea is New Zealand's fifth largest trading partner, with total trade last year worth $3.59 billion, according to New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade.

It is the country's fourth-largest source of foreign students and seventh largest source of overseas visitors.

New Zealand exporters pay an estimated $229 million in Korean tariffs each year, and the talks begun in 2009 have previously stalled amid Korean concern about the impact of New Zealand agricultural exports, according to MFAT.

Tariff elimination on agricultural products remains a challenge with New Zealand arguing that it doesn't compete with sensitive Korean production, given the country provides only about three per cent of Korea's total agricultural imports, doesn't produce rice, is counter-seasonal, doesn't export fresh milk and produces grass-fed beef.


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