(Transcript from World News Radio)
Signing of a Free Trade Agreement has marked Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s first trip to South Korea.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye, has emerged from a meeting with Mr Abbott, describing the outcomes as substantive and mutually beneficial.
As Thea Cowie reports, there have also been agreements to step up co-operation in defence and regional affairs.
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Mr Abbott and his South Korean counterpart have signed on the dotted line, making the Free Trade Agreement reached in December official.
As part of the deal, tariffs of up to 300 per cent will be eliminated on Australian exports such as beef, wheat, sugar, dairy, wine, seafood, resources and manufactured goods.
It will also provide new market opportunities for Australian services in education and telecommunications, as well as financial, accounting and legal services.
For Australian consumers, the cost of South Korean fridges, televisions and cars will drop.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott says Australia and South Korea are important and natural partners.
“We are democracies, we are G20 economies, we are allies of the United States, we are countries which would much prefer to find friends than to pick fights. We have a shared history, as you reminded us Madam President, a shared history in the terrible conflict that took place on this Peninsula. As you said Madam President, economically there is huge untapped potential in the relationship between our two countries and I am determined to build on this.”
President Park has specifically indicated an interest in the potential of Australia’s Liquid Natural Gas supplies.
She says expanded defence cooperation has also been discussed.
“We also shared the view that a rapidly changing regional security landscape lends importance to strengthening foreign policy and security coordination. We decided to further enhance strategic communication making it more comprehensive and multi-layered through the 2+2 foreign and defence ministers’ meeting, strategic dialogue and defence ministerial talks. I highlighted the importance of defence industrial collaboration in the context of augmenting strategic cooperation in the security realm and expressed a desire to see Korean companies engaged with Australia’s defence industries. We decided in this regard to work more closely together to strengthen industrial cooperation going forward.”
President Park has also thanked Mr Abbott for supporting Seoul’s desire to curb the North Korean nuclear program, and to eventually reunify the Korean Peninsula.
“The Prime Minister and I made it very clear that North Korea’s nuclear development poses a serious threat to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and beyond and that a nuclear armed North Korea will never be accepted. I explained to Prime Minister Abbott that the cooperation and support of international partners like Australia are vital to paving the way to an era of unification. The Prime Minister in turn conveyed a staunch support for Seoul’s unification vision and North Korea policy for which I am very grateful.”
Meanwhile, Mr Abbott has been forced to defend his decision to visit Japan on the same trip, telling his South Korean counterpart he could not play favourites in the region.
“We are a country which wants to build all our friendships and we have a very close friendship with Japan, we’ve got a very close friendship with (South) Korea. I accept that from time to time there are issues between Japan and (South) Korea. The point I made this morning though in the joint statement with President Park is that both Australia and (South) Korea are countries which are looking to make friends rather than pick fights.”
Relations between South Korea and Japan are severely strained, partly as a result of the legacy of Japan’s wartime rule over Korea, and partly stemming from a territorial dispute that feeds mutual hostility and suspicion.
Tony Abbott was heading from South Korea to China, accompanied by a 600-strong business delegation.