By Rod Nickel
(Reuters) - Canada and South Korea are having "tremendous discussions" toward a free-trade agreement, said Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, a deal that could increase trade in meat and autos.
Talks began in 2005, but were later hung up over disputes such as a delay in South Korea scrapping its ban on Canadian beef. South Korea lifted its nine-year-old ban in 2012.
"It (would be) a great agreement to have free trade into Korea," Ritz said on a broad-ranging conference call. "It's a very primary agriculture market for us, a premium product market and we continue to press ahead in those negotiations."
A free trade deal would be welcome news for Canadian beef and pork shippers. Without such an agreement, Canadian producers fear that shipments to South Korea would shrink once Seoul's free trade deal with the United States takes full effect in 2016.
Canada's auto sector is worried, however, that a free-trade deal would damage its industry.
Rudy Husny, a spokesman for Canadian International Trade Minister Ed Fast, would not say how close a deal is, but said the two countries continue to work toward an agreement.
Canada and the European Union agreed in October on a multibillion-dollar trade pact.
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)