The federal government has sealed a free trade agreement with South Korea, bringing almost five years of negotiations to fruition.
The coalition government has secured a free trade deal with South Korea, the first of three it pledged to seal in its first 12 months in power.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott says Trade Minister Andrew Robb brought the negotiations with Australia’s fourth-largest trading partner to a successful conclusion this week.
“The conclusion of this free trade agreement will see the delivery of a key election commitment,” Mr Abbott told parliament on Thursday.
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.
Australian automotive suppliers will benefit from the immediate removal of tariffs as high as eight per cent.
It will also provide new market opportunities for Australian services in education, telecommunications, as well as financial, accounting and legal services.
Mr Abbott says independent modelling shows the free trade agreement (FTA) would be worth $5 billion between 2015 and 2030 and boost the economy by about $650 million annually after 15 years.
Negotiations for the deal with South Korea started under Labor in March 2009.
It is one of three FTAs Mr Abbott pledged to secure in his first 12 months as prime minister. He also hopes to sign agreements with Japan and China.
The Korean agreement will be signed and come into operation after domestic approval processes in both countries.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says the FTA presents significant opportunities for Australia.
The National Farmers’ Federation says the deal will provide millions of dollars in export value to farmers.
“While the deal doesn’t deliver everything the Australian agricultural sector had advocated for, it is a strong step towards securing Australia’s important trading future with Korea,” federation president Brent Finlay said in a statement.
Mr Finlay said rice was notably absent from the deal.
The Australian Services Roundtable says the speed with which the government clinched the deal “augurs well” for the negotiations with Japan and China.
Two-way trade between Australia and South Korea reached $32 billion in 2012.
However, the Australian Manufacturing Union has condemned the agreement with South Korea as not being in the national interest.
Paul Bastian, the union’s national secretary, said the deal would not be good for Australia’s auto-industry.
“The auto-sector is already under pressure,” he said in a statement.
“The productivity commission has raised concerns that we already lack an even playing field.”