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Assembly in deadlock over KORUS FTA

Korean mobilisation against the FTA in Seoul on 13 October 2011 (Getty)

Korea Times 10-18-2011

Assembly in deadlock over KORUS FTA

By Chung Min-uck

The National Assembly is locked in an impasse with the ruling and the opposition parties showing no signs of backing down from their position on the long-stalled Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (KORUS FTA).

Prompted by the unusually swift ratification of the free trade bill by the U.S. Congress last week, the Grand National Party (GNP) has been pushing to follow suit of its counterpart’s quick approval. But lawmakers of the opposition parties continue to insist on implementing relief measures and renegotiations with Washington.

Lawmakers from the minor Democratic Labor Party and the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) occupied the chairman’s seat at the National Assembly Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee to prevent the GNP’s possible unilateral passage of the trade bill, which was put on the agenda at a subcommittee under the authority of Rep. Nam Kyung-pil, a GNP member and the chairman of the committee, Tuesday.

The GNP attempted to hold a general meeting of the committee in the afternoon to pass the trade bill prior to sending it to a plenary Assembly session. But the plan failed after the opposition camp refused to stop their occupation.

Rep. Nam announced the two sides will conduct more discussions over the weekend, and provide sufficient time for each side to talk about the issue. If he sees the need for additional debate, they will have one last discussion next Monday at the discretion of the committee chairman.

On Monday, the opposing sides held a meeting to narrow their differences but this ended in failure when two outside experts from the opposition left the meeting room complaining about a lack of speaking time and the procedure for the discussion.

Following this, the GNP slightly altered its original plan to terminate the legal procedures for the KORUS FTA by the end of October. The ruling party postponed its self-imposed ratification deadline from Oct. 28 to early November as negotiations with the opposition are making little progress and amid rising anxiety that the crippled operation of the National Assembly could negatively affect the by-election slated for Oct. 26.

“We are to pass the KORUS FTA around the end of October after the by-elections,”said Rep. Hong Joon-pyo, GNP chairman, during a Supreme Council meeting, Tuesday. “I wish the opposition will actively cooperate with us.”

However, the opposition parties are maintaining their original stance.

“The administration and the ruling party are proclaiming the ratification of the KORUS FTA by force,”said Rep. Kim Jin-pyo, the DP floor leader.

“We stand firm to our position of not ratifying (the KORUS FTA) until the interests between the two nations are reflected and countermeasures for any damages are thoroughly set up.”

Rep. Kim Yoo-jung, spokeswoman of the DP, said “The DP members have agreed to stop the GNP’s enforcement of the trade bill by all means possible.”

Meanwhile, following lunch with political party chairmen a day before, President Lee Myung-bak again invited floor leaders of the GNP and DP to meet him in a bid for quick ratification of the trade pact, emphasizing the economic benefits the deal could bring. The DP floor leader refused to attend the meeting.

Together with the trade pact, a package of 14 related bills need to be approved before the deal can take effect.

The GNP currently controls 168 out of 295 seats in the unicameral chamber which will allow it to pass the bills unilaterally at a plenary session.

 source: Korea Times