OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada and South Korea are very close to signing a long-delayed free trade deal after years of talks, sources familiar with the negotiations said on Thursday.
"It's imminent," said one business source, who asked for anonymity because a formal announcement had not been made yet.
"They are really, really close," said another person with knowledge of the protracted negotiations.
Another industry source said Canadian government officials were now seeking reaction from stakeholders to a South Korean deal, a step they also took just before Canada announced it had agreed a free trade pact with the European Union last year.
Canada, seeking to diversify its exports away from the United States, has long targeted the rapidly expanding economies of Asia.
Canada's Trade Ministry says exports to South Korea in 2012 were worth C$3.7 billion ($3.4 billion) while imports from South Korea hit C$6.4 billion.
"We have no deal at this point. Negotiations are ongoing," said Rudy Husny, a spokesman for International Trade Minister Ed Fast.
Talks with South Korea began in 2005, but later stalled over disputes about auto exports and a delay by Seoul in scrapping its ban on Canadian beef. South Korea lifted its nine-year-old ban in 2012.
Some Canada-based auto firms worry about a free-trade deal on the grounds it would cut an existing 6.1 percent tariff on imports of vehicles made by Kia Motors Corp (000270.KS) and Hyundai Corp (011760.KS).
But a free trade deal would be particularly welcome news for Canadian beef and pork shippers, who fear shipments to South Korea will shrink once Seoul's free trade deal with the United States takes full effect in 2016.
The Canadian Council of Chief Executives last month sent a letter to Fast urging the deal be completed, saying the United States, the European Union and Australia had already concluded agreements with South Korea.