FTA wrangling heats up outside Assembly

Korea Herald, Seoul

FTA wrangling heats up outside Assembly

By Lee Sun-young

6 November 2011

The main opposition Democratic Party stepped up its public campaign against the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement over the weekend, as the ruling Grand National Party mulled pushing a final vote at a plenary session Wednesday.

“The top priority for us is to inform the general public of what this deal is truly about,” said Rep. Lee Yong-sub, the DP spokesperson. The DP and other liberal parties claim that the deal is biased in favor of the U.S.

About 2,000 protesters held a candle-lit vigil in central Seoul on Saturday evening, demanding the GNP make no move to pass the bill unilaterally.

The FTA, signed in 2007 and revised in December last year, has been stalled at a parliamentary trade committee, with opposition lawmakers demanding changes be made to the agreement, already ratified by the U.S. Congress.

They demand that a set of clauses on the Investor-State Dispute settlement mechanism be deleted from the agreement. They claim the system would allow American investors to by-pass local legal procedures and dispute Korea’s local polices at international courts, putting Korea at a disadvantage.

“The Democratic Party will cooperate (in the ratification of the deal) if the two governments make a promise that they will open talks without delay to revise the Investor-State Dispute settlement clauses (in the agreement,)” said Rep. Kim Jin-pyo, the party’s floor leader.

GNP leaders, however, said that the ISD system is an international standard and that the DP’s demand for the deletion of related clauses is unacceptable, given the fact that the U.S. Congress already ratified the deal last month.

Last week, lawmakers belonging to the DP and other left-wing parties physically obstructed committee sessions in order to stop the GNP members from sending the bill for the plenary session.

Rep. Nam Kyung-pil, the committee’s chair and a GNP member, warned that his party may proceed to handle the FTA bill in accordance with the parliamentary law.

“We will be forced to take the procedures within the boundaries of democracy and parliamentary law should this kind of situation continue,” he said.

The GNP holds an absolute majority of 168 seats in the 299-member unicameral house.

The ruling party hopes to ratify the deal as soon as possible, for it to go into effect in January.

DP chairman Rep. Sohn Hak-kyu said, however, that the parliament should seek public approval first.

“We could put the bill to a referendum or ask public opinion through the general elections next year,” he said.