After five years, Canada and South Korea return to table on free trade

OTTAWA – Canada and South Korea are returning to the table next week in an effort to relaunch troubled free trade negotiations after a five-year hiatus.

Officials confirmed Wednesday that Canadian negotiators will be in Seoul on Nov. 25-29 talking to their South Korean counterparts.

The formal session will be the 14th round between the two countries but the first since March 2008. The Canada-European Union negotiations, by comparison, only took nine formal rounds.

The talks stalled in 2008 after Seoul banned Canadian beef imports in response to the mad cow scare, but that ban was lifted in 2012.

Canadian official said next week’s meetings will help determine if the negotiating positions can resume where they left off five years ago and explore avenues for progress.

Analysts say a successful deal would likely involve a trade-off between the auto and agricultural sectors, with South Korea seeking duty- free access for their shipments of Kia and Hyunadai vehicles, while Canadian pork and other food producers seek to build market share among that country’s 50 million people.

Canada’s auto sector has opposed an agreement that would increase competition for domestic vehicles and have complained about Korean restrictions on the industry.

Korea has managed to conclude free trade deals with both the U.S. and the European Union at the same time talks with Canada were on hold.

Although Ottawa has launched trade talks with Japan and India, and is a participant in the Trans-Pacific Partnership discussions, a deal with Korea would be considered an important step toward expanding access to the lucrative Asian market, which boasts the world’s fastest growing economies.

South Korea is currently Canada’s seventh-largest merchandise trade partner and the third-largest in Asia, after China and Japan, with exports of almost $4 billion last year.