Harper Heads to South Korea Hoping to Clinch Trade Deal

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he intends to finalize a trade deal with South Korea on a trip starting today, after the two countries struggled for more than eight years to reach an agreement.

“This is an important step forward not just for our economy but also for our relations with a country that has long been a friend and ally,” he said today in a statement on his website.

Harper said a deal would be Canada’s first in the Asia-Pacific region. South Korea is “a relatively open economy, a relatively very progressive economy, an advanced democracy, and it has trade linkages all through Asia itself,” he said. “So this is really the best gateway you can get into long-term trade agreement access into the Asia-Pacific region.”

Harper will meet South Korean President Park Geun Hye during the trip, which ends March 11, the prime minister’s office said in a separate statement.

Negotiators are finalizing details surrounding auto-safety standards required by the South Korean government, a person briefed on the talks said last week. U.S.-based automakers with operations in Canada, such as General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co., are concerned such standards could be used as indirect trade barriers, said the person, who asked not to be named because the negotiations are confidential.

The countries are discussing how to phase out tariffs on South Korean automobiles imported into Canada manufactured by companies such as Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp., and how to develop a dispute-settling mechanism, according to the person.

A pact with South Korea would be the latest trade agreement signed by Harper, who reached a deal in principle with the European Union in October.

Canada and South Korea started negotiations on a trade deal in 2005, with talks reaching an impasse in 2008. Two-way merchandise trade between the two countries reached almost C$10.1 billion ($9.1 billion) in 2012, according to Canadian government figures.

The U.S. implemented a trade deal with South Korea in 2012.

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