Agriculture is the Sticking Point
No nation is so continuously and demonstrably grateful for New Zealand assistance as South Koreans are for New Zealand's part in the Korean War. New Zealand's embassy in Seoul was among the first opened in the region and an ambassadorship there is regarded as a definite pointer to still higher office.
Why then is the Free Trade Agreement with South Korea proving so difficult to implement? After the resounding success of Premier Helen Clark's Free Trade Agreement with China it was believed that Seoul would be a shoo-in.
So what is the sticking point? Agriculture, actually.
In some ways, South Korea is to New Zealand now, what France was to New Zealand's Common Market era haggling in the 1960s and beyond.
No matter how effectively New Zealand negotiators demonstrated efficiency of production here, the French EU negotiators were moved only by the voting power of their own farmers, efficient or not.
A vigorous US-implanted democracy with a press as irreverent as New Zealand's, Seoul fears the wrath of its small farmers should they have to compete on anything like equal terms with New Zealand's farm exports.
A sting in the protracted negotiations is that Australia has recently signed its own FTA with South Korea.
With its more diversified exports (think minerals) Australia was able to offer generous flexibility in regard to a sliding scale of protection for its own farm products.
Without a mineral bargaining card New Zealand is finding itself the poor relation in the tortuous negotiating rounds over the past five years.
MSCNewsWire by Peter Isaac © 2014 MSCNewsWire