Why Australia and Korea Are Important to Each Other

Modern military and economic ties deepen Australia's relationship with South Korea

H.E. William Paterson PSM, Ambassador of Australia to the Republic of Korea

SEOUL, July 16, 2013 – In Part 5 of Asia Society Korea Center’s 2013 Ambassador Series, H.E. William Paterson PSM, Ambassador of Australia to the Republic of Korea, gave a lecture called Why Australia and Korea Are Important to Each Other.

Ambassador Paterson, who lived and worked in Asia for most of his career, explained how Australia was not a latecomer to understanding the importance of Asia, but already had a long history of engagement with the region. Through the Columbo Plan, Australia provided education for thousands of Asians, many of whom later became the leaders of Asia’s economic development. In 1957, Australia was one of the first countries to sign a post-war commerce agreement with Japan and in 1974, Australia became ASEAN’s first dialogue partner. “Our long-standing defense relationships have helped underpin the stability that has allowed for accelerated Asian growth,” Ambassador Paterson said. “In short, we’ve been deeply committed to the region for a very long time.”

Australia’s military cooperation further emphasized that commitment. Just days after the Korean War began in 1950, Australia became directly involved, ultimately sending 17,000 servicemen and women to defend the country. Two weeks ago, Australia became the second country after the United States to establish a 2+2 dialogue with Korea, in which the defense and foreign ministers of both countries participate. Ambassador Paterson pointed out that stability and security was an “enduring national interest for Australia.” In August, Australian participants will arrive to take part in the joint military exercise Ulchi Freedom Guardian, making Australian’s contribution second only to that of the U.S.

On the economic front, Australia and Korea are becoming ever more significant partners. “Our resources have fueled Korea’s dramatic economic growth,” Ambassador Paterson said. “While our financial and other services increasingly contribute to the fabric of Korea’s economy and society.” He described Korea as Australia’s third largest export market and fourth largest trading partner overall. Two way trade between the countries exceeds 30 billion USD per year and investment ties are growing.

In addition to well-known Australian imports such as iron ore, coal, LNG, wheat, meat, and dairy products, Ambassador Paterson spoke of other products and services that are making an impact in Korea. “Australian financial institutions operate part of the Seoul subway, they operate the toll road from Incheon airport, and manage part of Korea’s large pension funds,” he said. Australian museums of contemporary art have developed close collaborations and some Australians have entered the K-pop scene as artists.

Ambassador Paterson concluded his talk by discussing one of his top priorities in office. “My immediate objective is to work for the conclusion of a free trade agreement between Australia and Korea,” he said. “Negotiations are in fact quite near to completion. Entry into force of an FTA will greatly assist both countries to benefit from each other’s economic strengths and build further mutual economic resilience.”

“Our 2 economies are complementary,” Ambassador Paterson said. “An FTA would bring benefits to consumers in both countries and stimulate trade flows between us. Service sector growth would build our respective skill bases and the capabilities of our economies, providing an impetus for collaboration in areas beyond agriculture on the Australian side and manufactured products on the Korean side.” 

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