Gordon Flake says the revival of the Trans-Pacific Partnership was a significant achievement.

South Korea next for trade pact

Tuesday, 23 April, 2019 - 14:31

South Korea should join Australia and 10 other nations in the second generation Trans-Pacific Partnership, according to Perth USAsia Centre chief executive Gordon Flake.

Speaking at the Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation’s Korea Business Roundtable, Professor Flake said South Korea was well placed join the deal now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The deal is a free trade agreement with a focus on services, investment and intellectual property, with member states including Japan, Canada and Singapore.

Previously, the US had committed to join the original version of the partnership, but withdrew in January 2017.

Australia and Japan led the negotiations to redraft the treaty.

South Korea announced an interest in joining the agreement last year.

Professor Flake said no country was more prepared for membership of the partnership than South Korea, meaning the country would have an easy time transitioning into the agreement.

The move would help supplement the existing Korea- Australia Free Trade Agreement, he said.

Professor Flake said South Korean investment in Australia was nowhere near that of other Asian countries, such as Japan, but that meant there was room to grow.

“Korea is the most underrepresented major economy in Australia, particularly WA,” he said.

“We don’t have a Korean consulate here, it’s the only major Asian nation that doesn't have a consultant here.

“The profile and recognition of WA in Korea is extraordinarily low. I don’t say that to be negative, I say if you’re looking for opportunities to diversify, there’s tremendous upside there.

“The onus is on us.”

But one critical change would be that WA needed to focus more on enticing capital than selling specific exports.

Professor Flake also praised Australia’s work in reestablishing the agreement in the absence of the US, led by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.

“One of the most significant developments of the last year … was the remarkable resurrection of the TPP,” he said.

“(It’s) a true 21st century free trade agreement.

“It’s not really important for the resources sector, but it’s extremely important to any effort to diversify (the economy)

“The fact Japan and Australia resurrected that was a stunning achievement.”

Energised

Speakers at the roundtable also highlighted South Korea’s interest in battery minerals and hydrogen.

Hanwha Q Cells Australia managing director Peter Bae said WA should embrace opportunities to develop hydrogen using renewable power.

In the process, electricity generated from renewables is used to electrolyse water, turning it into hydrogen (and oxygen), which can be transported and used to generate power.

Opportunities include use in fuel cells for vehicles, and in power generation.

Mr Bae said Australia could make numerous chemical products from solar power, including hydrogen.

“Australia should have this business as soon as possible,” he said.

“We are ready to be a partner (in hydrogen projects) as an investor and also as equipment supplier.”

There were three key factors in deciding whether a solar to hydrogen project would be economical, Mr Bae said.

They were the sunlight, financing, and cost of land, with WA an excellent choice.

“Here in Australia, the (solar) radiation is the world’s best,” Mr Bae said.

There is already at least one project under consideration in WA – Yara Pilbara’s green hydrogen development near Karratha.

That project would reportedly involve 100 megawatts of solar capacity.

Pilbara Minerals chief executive Ken Brinsden said South Korea was the big mover in the battery space outside China, with the company considering investing in a chemical conversion facility in the country.

Mr Brinsden said car makers were eager to have a supply chain for vehicle batteries independent of China, with South Korea the destination of choice.

The Koreans had also been keen to export technology and capital, he said.

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