The formal ratification of Australia’s Free Trade Agreement with South Korea appears likely to occur within the next fortnight after an important bipartisan agreement was reached in Korean parliamentary negotiations late last week.
The Korean National Assembly committee on foreign affairs last week approved the country’s free trade pacts with both Australia and Canada, following a bipartisan agreement to ratify the much-delayed motions by December 2, according to a report in the Korea Herald.
The timing of the ratification has significance to Australia’s beef export trade to the country, which is Australia’s third largest market for boxed beef.
If the formal ratification by South Korea occurs before December 31, tariffs on Australian beef will track at 5.3pc above tariffs on United States beef in the market until 2026 when the US reaches a 0pc tariff situation.
Should the ratification process be delayed and drift into next year, Australian beef will remain at a perpetual 8pc disadvantage to the US in Korea for at least the next 13 years.
The FTA was signed between the two countries in April, and formally ratified by the Australian Parliament in September.
It now requires ratification by the Korean National Assembly before it can take effect.
The Korea Herald said the ratification of South Korea’s treaties with Australia and Canada has been stalled in the parliament amid concerns about their possible impact on livestock and dairy farms.
However the paper reported that after weeks of negotiations, the governing Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy have announced that they will pass the deals at a plenary session next month.
The announcement came after the rival parties reached an agreement with the government for promising farmers more state subsidies and low- interest loans.
“The lawmakers’ promises to lower the interest rates on our loans have convinced us to support the FTAs, although we are going to go over the details,” said Lee Gang-heoun, a spokesman for the four dairy and livestock farmers’ associations that were opposed to the free trade pacts.
The report said farmers were not present at the talks, but had called for reductions in the interest on government farm loans as a condition for supporting the free trade agreements.
The Korea Institute for International Economic Policy had predicted that Australian and Canadian farm products in Korea could financially strain Korean farmers after the deals take effect.
The pacts are likely to come into force in December, initiating the first round of tariff cuts. The second round of cuts will begin days later on New Year’s Day.
The two successive cuts are expected to benefit Canadian and Australian beef exporters facing US competitors in the Korean market.
South Korean manufacturers contending with their Japanese counterparts in the Australian market are also expected to celebrate the decision for similar reasons. Japan is nearing ratification of a free trade deal of its own with Australia, which is expected to enter force early next year.
Exporters had worried that prolonged negotiations in the South Korean parliament would push the accords’ approvals to next year. Tariff cuts would have been delayed in such a scenario by as long as 11 months, with the first round of cuts beginning whenever the deal was passed, and the second round not coming into effect until Jan. 1, 2016.
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