Canberra, Seoul push ahead on FTA

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Canberra, Seoul push ahead on FTA

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Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard delivers a speech during a dawn service to commemorate Australian and New Zealand Army Corps Day at the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul yesterday. [REUTERS/YONHAP]

President Lee Myung-bak and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard agreed yesterday to wrap up negotiations on a Korea-Australia bilateral free trade agreement this year.

“I am very pleased that out of our discussion, we were able to agree that the negotiation on the free trade agreement should be concluded this year,” Gillard said at a media briefing in a Seoul hotel after meeting with President Lee earlier in the day. “I will be instructing Australian trade negotiators to work to this timetable,” she said.

The Blue House also said in a joint statement that the two leaders agreed that negotiations were in their final stage. The two countries have held five rounds of negotiations over the pact since March 2009, but substantial differences are known to remain on such areas as beef, dairy products and autos.

The Australian side has long expressed the desire for the agreement to be signed within the year. Analysts said Australia is partly motivated by concern over the impact of Korea’s two pending FTAs with the United States and the European Union on those countries’ agricultural exports to Korea. Korea wants Australia to lower barriers on imports of industrial goods.

At the briefing, Gillard said she is confident the two countries will conclude the FTA talks this year, saying they have already gotten to a point where both she and Lee were needed to express political will to get it done.

A “comprehensive high-quality FTA” she said, is “strongly in the interest of our agricultural exporters, and the interest of services exporters,” Gillard said. “I am determined to get it done.”

The two leaders also discussed other measures to deepen their partnership in trade and development of natural resources, the two sides said.

Gillard said that Australia particularly hopes more LNG projects involving Australia and Korean companies could come to fruition in the near future.

Korea’s state-run Kogas signed a deal to buy a stake in Australia’s Gladstone LNG in December last year. Korea is the world’s second-largest importer of LNG, while Australia is a major exporter of natural resources, including LNG, to Korea.

“I noted to the president that there is the prospect of significant increases in LNG exports to Korea,” she said.

During the meeting, the two leaders also discussed North Korea and shared the view that the regime’s recently disclosed uranium enrichment program violates UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874.

To deepen cooperation on the North issues, the two leaders agreed to work toward establishing a regular “2+2” meeting, involving both foreign affairs and defense ministers from the two sides. Korea initiated that kind of format for security discussions with the United States last year.

Gillard came to Korea from Japan on Saturday as part of a 10-day overseas trip that also includes stops in China and the United Kingdom. She left for China last night. Her three-day itinerary in Korea included a visit to the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul yesterday to pay tribute to the soldiers from 16 allied countries killed during the Korean War, including 340 Australians. Around 17,000 Australian soldiers fought for the South during the 1950-53 war.

The prime minister also visited the demilitarized zone on Sunday where she said she felt “the sense of insecurity that South Koreans live with.” She said it was a unique, personal experience to get a glimpse of “what it is like to have a country alongside you that is periodically engaged in acts of aggression and provocation.”

Last year, Australia joined a multinational investigation into the March 26 sinking of a South Korean warship. The investigation led by the South concluded that the incident, which killed 46 South Korean soldiers aboard the Cheonan, was a North Korean attack, which Pyongyang denies. Gillard reiterated Australia’s condemnation of the North’s attacks last year, which also included the shelling of the South’s Yeonpyeong Island, killing four South Koreans.

She said her country also condemned North Korea for its human rights abuse. “You couldn’t get a starker contrast between two nations - democratic, prosperous South and the repressive North, in which people struggle for the basics of human lives,” she said.


By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]
한국·호주 정상회담 … “양국 FTA 타결 단계”

이명박 대통령과 줄리아 길라드 호주 총리는 25일 “한·호주 자유무역협정(FTA) 협상이 본격적인 타결 단계에 도달했다고 보고 올해 안에 협상을 타결한다는 공동 목표를 재확인했다”고 밝혔다. 이날 청와대에서 정상회담을 마친 뒤 발표한 공동성명을 통해서다. 두 정상은 남북 문제와 관련, “북한이 최근 공개한 우라늄 농축 활동이 안보리 결의 1718호와 1874호를 위반하고, (2005년 북한이 핵무기를 포기하는 대가로 북한의 안전을 보장하고 에너지 지원을 하겠다는 것을 골자로 6자회담 당사국이 채택한) 9·19 공동성명상에서의 북한의 공약에도 배치된다”는 점을 지적했다. 또 북한이 우라늄농축프로그램(UEP)을 포함한 모든 불법적 핵 활동을 중단할 것을 촉구했다.

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