TORONTO, March 9 Canada Prime Minister Stephen
Harper said on Sunday he hopes to finalize a free trade
agreement with South Korea during a trip there this week.
Sources familiar with the negotiations had said last week
that the two sides were very close to signing a long-delayed
free trade deal after years of talks.
Harper confirmed a deal is close in a video posted on his
website as his office released details of the March 9 to 11
"We will be hoping to finalize a Canada-Korea free trade
agreement," he said.
Canada, seeking to diversify its exports away from the
United States, has long targeted the rapidly expanding economies
Canada's Trade Ministry said exports to South Korea in 2012
were worth C$3.7 billion ($3.34 billion) while imports from
South Korea hit C$6.4 billion.
Talks with South Korea began in 2005, but later stalled over
disputes about auto exports and a delay by Seoul in scrapping
its ban on Canadian beef. South Korea lifted its nine-year-old
ban in 2012.
Some Canada-based auto firms worry about a free-trade deal
on the grounds it would cut an existing 6.1 percent tariff on
imports of vehicles made by Kia Motors Corp and
But a free trade deal would be particularly welcome news for
Canadian beef and pork shippers, who fear shipments to South
Korea will shrink once Seoul's free trade deal with the United
States takes full effect in 2016.
The Canadian Council of Chief Executives last month sent a
letter to Trade Minister Ed Fast urging the deal be completed,
saying the United States, the European Union and Australia had
already concluded agreements with South Korea.