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DP’s Sohn apologizes for flip-flopping on EU FTA

JoongAng Daily, Korea

DP’s Sohn apologizes for flip-flopping on EU FTA

10 May 2011

By Kang Min-seok, Kim Mi-ju

Democratic Party leader Sohn Hak-kyu apologized to the people for the chaos around the ratification of the Korea-EU free trade agreement, which he promised to support and then backed away from, stressing he wasn’t opposed to the deal itself, but was “against the insufficient bill.”

“What deserves a reprimand must be reprimanded,” Sohn said in an interview with the JoongAng Sunday. “I feel sorry for disappointing people who have their own expectations of the DP.”

Last week, the DP made an agreement with the ruling Grand National Party to ratify the FTA, but hours before the vote, Sohn walked away from the agreement, saying that not enough protection had been afforded to farmer and the retail industry. Two supplementary bills to protect farmers and retailers got dropped in the process.

The bill was eventually ratified by the GNP alone last Wednesday, with the DP boycotting the session.

Agreeing to ratify the FTA bill with the GNP was Sohn’s first legislative decision after winning an April 27 by-election in the Bundang B District of Gyeonggi.

Political analysts said Sohn broke his agreement with the GNP to help hold together his alliance of minority liberal opposition parties in the run-up to next year’s general and presidential elections.

But when he pulled out of the ratification agreement, he drew the ire of other figures in his party, including Park Jie-won, the party’s floor leader.

“I wasn’t against the entire FTA,” Sohn told the JoongAng Ilbo. “I was against the ‘unprepared FTA.’ The agreement wasn’t prepared enough. If necessary, we need to renegotiate it.

In the case of the Korea-U.S. FTA bill, Sohn said there’s no reason why Korea can’t renegotiate the deal.

“The [U.S.] FTA deal was signed during the Roh Moo-hyun administration,” he continued. “But President Lee Myung-bak changed the situation. The deal was renegotiated [with the U.S.] and the balance of benefits between the two countries was lost. The United States renegotiated the matter and why can’t we?”

Critics said Sohn decided to walk away from the compromise with the GNP because he was afraid his decision would strain relations with opposition parties. “I wasn’t dragged by other opposition parties [when I boycotted the EU FTA vote] and I wasn’t swayed by some DP lawmakers, who opposed the ratification while I supported it at heart,” Sohn said. “The DP discovered the [Korea-EU] FTA will nullify a recently enacted law to protect small retailers from ‘super-supermarkets’ operated by conglomerates. That’s why we concluded the Korea-EU deal was ‘unprepared.’”

In regard to his victory in the by-elections, Sohn said, “The people gave the DP a conditional victory. The people voted for us because they retracted their support for the Lee Myung-bak government. But that doesn’t mean the people fully trust the DP. It’s the DP’s turn to get in the ring.”

A survey by Hankook Research found Sohn’s victory in Bundang boosted his popularity. While only 3.1 percent of respondents selected him in March as their favored presidential candidate, 11.5 percent named him after the April by-election, outpacing Rhyu Si-min, head of the People’s Participation Party.