South Korea's Iron Lady has decided it is time to strike a free trade agreement with New Zealand, John Key has told Kiwi business leaders in Seoul.
In the last day of his trip to South Korea, Key told the Kiwi Chamber - a Seoul business group - that his meeting with President Park Geun-hye left him with confidence that three years after FTA talks stalled, there was political will to reach an agreement.
"My sense is she has decided that now is the right time and that we should get a deal done," Key said.
Park is known internationally at the Iron Lady of South Korea, the only female leader in North Asia in modern history.
The daughter of Park Chung-hee, who became president of South Korea through a military coup and who was later assassinated, Park is also considered an extremely powerful leader.
Key told the business audience that he would fly home last night with confidence. He told reporters there was a 65 per cent chance a deal would be completed within three years.
The New Zealand delegation had spent time in South Korea meeting major business groups, including electronics giant Samsung, "people that we believe are serious and significant players in Korea that can lend their weight to supporting the FTA".
The audience they could assist the deal by lobbying politicians.
"Anything that anyone in this room can do will help because in the end I think you really are pushing against an open door. I think the Korean Government want to complete the deal."
South Korea is New Zealand's fifth largest trading partner, with two-way trade of around $3.3 billion in 2012.
But there are unequal tariffs, with Kiwi businesses paying $195 million in tariffs on $1.55b of trade, with South Korea charged only $5m on $1.8b.
Key criticised South Korea this week, telling the Kiwi veterans of the Korean war the fact it had signed FTAs with New Zealand's trading partners, but not with us, was not fair given the assistance New Zealand had provided it.
"I don't think that's right or fair, not given everything we've done and the contribution that we've made."
Yesterday he said an FTA with South Korea would be worth "billions". It has a population of 50 million, per capita wealth similar to New Zealand's and was destined to become wealthier.
"I don't think there's any question these are consumers with money, they've got the appetite for what we want to sell. Great opportunity."
Sir Graeme Harrison, the founder of meat processing company ANZCO and chairman of the NZ International Business Forum, said trade with South Korea was already being eroded by its FTAs with other countries.
Exports of beef were being hurt by the FTA with the USA, while kiwifruit exports were being hit by Chile's falling tariffs.
"Bit by bit the tariffs on other countries disappear, and we're still sitting at 40 per cent, which we don't have to face elsewhere."
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