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Parliament demands gov’t suspend subsidy to civic groups opposing FTA with US

Parliament demands gov’t suspend subsidy to civic groups opposing FTA with U.S.

SEOUL, Jan. 4 2007 (Yonhap) — The South Korean parliament has requested the government suspend state subsidies to civic organizations involved in illegal rallies ahead of a new round of free trade talks with the United States this month, officials said Thursday.

South Korean farmers, laborers and anti-globalization activists have staged vehement protests opposing the government’s plan to sign a free trade agreement (FTA) with the U.S. out of concern that the pact would threaten their livelihoods. The demonstrations often turned violent, especially when FTA negotiations were underway.

On Dec. 27, the National Assembly’s Special Committee on Budget and Accounts requested the government "limit its subsidy programs for civic organizations which have been implicated in illegal rallies," said officials at the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs.

The parliamentary committee made the demand after approving next year’s 10 billion won budget proposal for government subsidies to civic organizations, they said.

The move is seen as the government firming its position against anti-FTA protests, as South Korea and the U.S. are scheduled to launch the sixth round of the trade talks in Seoul on Jan. 15-19.

In November, the central government ordered regional administrative bodies to stop subsidy payments to anti-FTA civic groups and take legal actions against their illegal protests.

The home affairs ministry has yet to decide if it will accept the parliamentary request, but determined it would stop or withdraw state funding to civic groups if they are used for protest-related purposes, ministry officials said.

In previous rounds of FTA talks, South Korea and the U.S. were at odds over such issues as easing U.S. anti-dumping rules and have barely touched upon such sensitive issues as farm goods, autos and pharmaceuticals.

President Bush’s "fast-track" trade promotion authority, allowing a trade deal to be voted on by Congress without amendments, expires on July 1. The authority requires a 90-day presidential notification to Congress, meaning both sides must wrap up negotiations before April 2.

 source: Yonhap