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S. Korea, Australia set free-trade talks deadline

25 april 2011, 18:25
0
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (R) ©AFP
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (R) ©AFP
The leaders of South Korea and Australia vowed Monday to wrap up by the end of the year their talks on a free trade agreement, which had stalled over access to Seoul's beef market, AFP reports.

President Lee Myung-Bak and Prime Minister Julia Gillard "looked forward to building on a mutually beneficial and stable partnership in trade and the development of natural resources", according to a joint statement after their summit.

They reaffirmed "their joint goal to conclude the (FTA) negotiations this year".

The talks, which started in May 2009, hit a snag over Australia's demand for the wider opening of the beef market. It is seeking similar access to that given to the United States in an FTA signed in December but not yet in force.

Last year Australia exported 122,000 tons of beef to South Korea, accounting for almost half of all imports.

"I believe we can reach agreement, and I certainly believe we should reach agreement," Gillard told reporters before the summit, saying an FTA would especially benefit Australia's agricultural sector.

In the summit talks she also expressed hope that gas projects involving Australian and South Korean companies could be brought to "a successful conclusion in the near future", the statement said.

Last December South Korea's state gas company agreed to buy 3.5 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) a year from Australia for 20 years starting 2015.

Korea Gas will buy a 15 percent stake in Australia's Gladstone LNG project led by Santos.

The two leaders also agreed to work together to advance "international climate change negotiations toward a strong, collective response".

Gillard earlier Monday attend a dawn service marking ANZAC Day -- memorial day for Australia and New Zealand -- at the National War Memorial in Seoul.

She was later to head for China, last leg of her northeast Asian trip which began in Japan.

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