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EU FTA may be in jeopardy

Korea JongAng Daily

EU FTA may be in jeopardy

Despite committee approval, DP may boycott vote today

29 April 2011

By Kim Mi-ju, Yonhap

The National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee yesterday finally approved the country’s long-stalled free trade agreement with the European Union. But the DP quickly threw a wrench into the process.

With the committee’s approval of the Korea-EU FTA by a vote of 17-2 with six abstentions, the National Assembly was scheduled to vote on the measure today. The European Parliament had already approved the deal on Feb. 17.

But the opposition Democratic Party yesterday threatened to boycott today’s session, which would throw into question whether the Korea-EU FTA could officially take effect in July.

The DP wants the vote to be delayed until a special plenary session in June, believing there is a need to conduct public hearings on the trade pact.

“The DP will not negotiate with the GNP about when the bill will be submitted to the plenary session,” DP floor leader Park Jie-won said.

GNP floor leader Kim Moo-sung said that he is enraged that the DP broke its promise to hold a legislative session today.

Under Korean law, at least half of the 299 assembly members must be present for a plenary session, and more than half of the members attending must give their approval if a bill is to become law. The GNP holds 172 seats and the opposition parties hold the 127 others, including the DP’s 89 seats.

The math is in favor of the GNP, but the ruling party is not sure whether to hold the vote in the plenary session without the DP, which could cause a backlash from the public and opposition parties.

Political observers said the timing is not good given the GNP’s defeat in the by-elections and it is unclear how many GNP legislators would vote to support the bill because some legislators are based in farming regions whose residents oppose the Korea-EU FTA.

“I passed the bill with a fearful mind,” said Rep. Nam Kyung-pil of the GNP, who chaired the committee. “From now on, the government will have to make efforts to resolve the communication problems raised by opposition lawmakers and avoid making the same mistakes in the ratification bill.”

He was apparently referring to the translation errors in the agreement, which has delayed the ratification process since October.

Yesterday’s agreement came after the parliament’s legislative subcommittee rejected the pact earlier this month, citing the translation problem and lack of protective measures for the country’s hog and dairy industries.

Prior to the committee’s vote, Vice Finance Minister Lim Jong-ryong proposed to lawmakers that the government exempt small livestock farms from transfer taxes on sales of cattle sheds and land for the next three years. The measure excludes land used for grazing.

The agreement, if it takes effect, will eliminate 98 percent of import duties and other trade barriers on manufactured goods, agricultural products and services between South Korea and the EU within the next five years.

Meanwhile, the cabinet agreed to withdraw a ratification bill for the Korea-U.S. FTA yesterday because multiple translation errors were found in the Korean text of the pact, the government said.

A new bill will be submitted to the National Assembly next month after the errors are corrected, it said.

In December, both countries reached a final agreement, focusing on U.S. demands that Korea soften its automotive safety and environmental standards, three years after the original agreement was signed in June 2007.

But the deal, known as the KORUS FTA, has yet to be ratified by the legislatures of each country.

Seoul has not, at least publicly, set a timeline for ratification of the trade deal, but the withdrawal of its ratification bill is expected to delay the process by at least a few months, as the parliament will go into a monthlong recess at the end of this month.

The move comes as opposition parties strongly oppose the deal, which they claim would only favor the U.S. auto industry while worsening lives of most Koreans.

This marks the second FTA that has been blocked because of translation errors in its Korean version.

The FTA between Korea and the European Union has already been put on hold twice due to errors.

Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik called on officials to present a new KORUS FTA ratification motion with no translation problems.

“The foreign affairs and other related ministries should do their best to thoroughly examine the original text of the deal and the translated version so they can resubmit a ratification bill without any flaws,” Kim said during the cabinet meeting.