Australia, South Korea Finally Has Free Trade Agreement, A Win for Agriculture, Meat Exports

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | December 6, 2013 1:37 PM EST

Australia and South Korea has entered into a free trade agreement on Thursday. The deal most advances the plight of meat exporters and agricultural producers.

The deal highlights that tariffs will be eliminated on local exports of agricultural products such as beef, sugar, wheat, wine and dairy. Energy, resources and manufactured goods were likewise included.

The deal effectively increases by 73 per cent Australian exports to Korea in the next 15 years. It still has to be approved by the Cabinet before it can be fully implemented though.

Trade between Australia and South Korea reached $32 billion worth in 2012. South Korea is already Australia's fourth-largest trading partner.

However, rice exporters weren't glad.

"A free trade agreement has been struck and yet not all products are included," Ruth Wade, executive director of Rice Growers Australia, said. "We're extremely disappointed rice has been excluded."

Apart from agriculture and meat exports, the FTA between Australia and South Korea likewise enables Australian law firms to set up offices in South Korean to offer legal consulting services.

The FTA also opens "new commercial opportunities" for film and television through the Audiovisual Co-production Agreement.

However, no nice package comes with no strings attached. Just as South Korea opened more than one window for its FTA with Australia, it had the latter agree to a stipulation granting Korean companies the right to sue for breaches of the agreement.

This stipulation was actually one of the major stumbling blocks why the FTA between the two nations took time to materialize. The former Gillard government was unwilling to grant the clause, called investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS).

The clause simply states that a Korean company may sue the Australia government if the latter does something that negatively affects the profit stream of a Korean company.

The ISDS in the new agreement with South Korea, the Coalition government maintained, had retained appropriate ''carve-outs and safeguards'' in areas such as public welfare, health and the environment.

''This will provide new protections for Australian investors in Korea as well as Korean investors in Australia, promoting investor confidence and certainty in both countries,'' the document said.

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