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Outlook Cloudy for South Korea-US FTA

Online Publication Date: 15 January 2009

Outlook Cloudy for South Korea-US FTA

The South Korea-US FTA took a back seat after the South Korean parliament failed to pass a bill that would have paved the way for the ratification of the agreement in its last sitting thanks to a 12-day siege by opposition lawmakers at the parliament.

The ruling Grand National Party (GNP), which has 172 of the National Assembly's 299 seats, wanted to pass some 80 bills - including the one on the South Korea-US FTA -  before the end of the last session which ended last week. But because of strong protests by members of the opposition Democratic Party, the legislation will be on hold until a later parliamentary session, probably in February.

It has been a dramatic few weeks that included clashes involving sledgehammers and fire extinguishers between the opposition and the ruling GNP when the latter began procedures to ratify the free trade agreement with the US. The opposition lawmakers ended their siege of the parliament which began on December 26, 2008 when it was clear that the bill on the FTA and others will not be passed at the end of the last parliament session.

This protest mirrors that of previous protests by the masses last year when thousands took to the streets across the country opposing the FTA with the US over fears that it would, among other things, impact farmers and workers negatively due to an expected competition from imports of goods from the US.

The South Korea-US FTA has languished in political limbo since being signed nearly 18 months ago. It still needs approval from legislatures in both countries, but this latest development coupled with the lukewarm reception that the US President-elect Barack Obama has given the FTA and the global financial crisis, have further raised questions about its passage.


Associated Press |
6 January 2008

South Korea's opposition ends parliamentary occupation

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - Opposition lawmakers ended their violent, 12-day siege of South Korea's parliament Tuesday after blocking - for now - a U.S. free trade deal and other legislation.

Democratic Party legislators had occupied the National Assembly since Dec. 26, fending off security guards who tried to drag them out by force last week in scuffles that left nearly 100 people with minor injuries.

Party leader Rep. Chung Se-kyunsaid the parliamentary speaker assured him the ruling party would abandon its bid to ram through a raft of bills - including the free trade deal -  by the end of the parliamentary session Thursday.

The ruling Grand National Party, which has 172 of the assembly's 299 seats, wanted to pass some 80 bills before the current session ends.But because of the opposition siege, the legislation will be on hold until a later parliamentary session, probably next month.

"We have safeguarded parliamentary democracy," said Chung, flanked by lawmakers in front of the hall.

Chung apologized to the nation for the violence. Last month, opposition lawmakers armed with sledgehammers pounded their way into a committee room where ruling party lawmakers were meeting.

"The Democratic Party hopes there won't be a situation where we cannot help but make this choice again," he said.

The ruling party has enough control of parliament to easily pass the government's version of the legislation.

But Chung's party had sought negotiations with the opposition to find a suitable compromise of the U.S.free trade pact and other bills - partly because the South Korean public prizes such consensus. Reports Tuesday said the rival parties were making progress in negotiations over the free trade pact and other bills.

The opposition says the bill must include measures to protect farmers, laborers and others expected to suffer from a surge in imports from the U.S.

Another point of dispute is a ruling party-sponsored bill that would ease restrictions on business and newspaper ownership of broadcast stations. Critics say the bill, which would help large, pro-government newspapers and companies establish television stations, is meant to give the Lee administration control over broadcasters.


Also see:

1.SKorean opposition ordered to end occupation of parliament, AFP,29 Dec 2008

2. Outlook cloudy for SKorea-US free trade agreement,AP,28 Dec 2008

3. South Korea trade fight gets ugly, IHT,18 Dec 2008


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