Harper hopes to hash out free trade deal with South Korea

Bryn Weese, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:25 PM ET

SEOUL, South Korea — Prime Minister Stephen Harper's trip here this week is short.

It's actually only a day, but Tuesday he's hoping to finalize a free trade deal that's been a decade in the making.

Free trade talks actually began between the two countries in 2005, but stalled in 2008 while Korea had in place a ban on all Canadian beef imports following a mad cow disease scare.

The ban was lifted in 2012, and free trade talks resumed last fall.

But while Canada-Korea talks were on ice, South Korea — and it's 50 million increasingly wealthy population — were busy signing free trade agreements with the U.S., Australia, and the European Union.

Canada's agrifood industry — particularly pork and beef producers — have been pushing for the deal to level the playing field.

But North America's Big Three automakers have been fighting against it, warning that Kias and Hyndais would flood the Canadian market and kill auto manufacturing jobs if the 6.1% tariff currently imposed on Korean import vehicles is phased out.

Another concern is South Korea's so-called non-tariff barriers — such as banning Canadian beef on an unfounded whim, or imposing auto regulations that only domestic cars can meet — that have come to define the country's trading practices, even with free trade partners.

Last year, two-way trade totalled about $10 billion, and South Korea is Canada's seventh largest trading partner.

Harper, who has travelled here four times as prime minister, is expected to announce the deal with his South Korean counterpart overnight here Monday.

"I look forward to meeting with President Park Geun-hye to discuss ways of further strengthening this already vibrant relationship," Harper said in a statement this week. "By working to increase trade, investment and cooperation, we are confident that the Canada-Korea friendship will continue to flourish in the years to come, creating a strong basis for more jobs and growth in both countries."

Also on the trip here is Industry Minister James Moore and International Trade Minister Ed Fast, as well as representatives of Canada's agrifood industry and the Canadian-Korean business community.

bryn.weese@sunmedia.ca


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