Korea Herald | 26 November 2015
Parties lock horns over Korea-China FTA
By Yeo Jun-suk
Rival parties Thursday clashed over the delayed ratification of a free trade agreement signed between South Korea and China in June, casting a shadow over the government’s push to see the pact in effect by the end of this year.
While the ruling Saenuri Party urged the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy to agree on holding a plenary session this Friday to ratify the FTA, the NPAD rejected the call unless the government implements measures to compensate those it said would suffer from the trade pact.
“I can’t even describe how frustrated I feel because the NPAD is delaying the agreement for reasons that I don’t understand. We shouldn’t defy the efforts of the people and business to promptly ratify the FTA,” said Saenuri leader Rep. Kim Moo-sung.
The Saenuri Party asserted the Friday session would be the last opportunity to have the agreement take effect within this year, because officials from Seoul and Beijing need time to prepare administrative steps for implementation.
The party has pledged to provide subsidies worth 1 trillion won ($870 million) to sectors, such as the agriculture industry, expected to suffer from the trade pact. The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affair expects the FTA would lead to 154 billion won in economic losses over the next 20 years.
The ruling party and the government have also highlighted the economic benefits of early implementation of the pact with Korea’s biggest trade partner. They argue that prompt ratification allows Korea’s companies to enjoy full benefits from the pact’s tariff cut scheme.
Under the scheme, the first round of tariff cuts starts in the year the pact takes effect. Officials point out that Seoul can benefit from the second-round tariff reduction in about a month, starting Jan. 1 next year, if it ratifies the pact before Dec. 31.
But The NPAD remains adamant. The liberal party reiterated that it would continue to reject the call for early ratification, unless the government and the ruling party come up with comprehensive measures to compensate the sectors that would take hit from the FTA.
“Our priority is to prepare measures to make up for economic loss for the agricultural sector. Without the government promising to implement the measures, we wouldn’t agree on holding the plenary session on Friday,” said NPAD Rep. Lee Chun-seok.
The NPAD has urged the government to introduce a policy to “share” trade benefits from the FTA among different industries, a plan that mandates those sectors who benefit from the FTA share its gains with the sectors who would suffer economic losses from the FTA. The Saenuri Party dismissed the plan as being “unrealistic.”
Taking agricultural, fishing and dairy industry as prime examples of those sectors who would suffer the most, the NPAD has also demanded the government increase the amount of direct subsidies and lower rates for struggling farmers and fishermen who want to borrow money from the government.
They asserted that the government should implement policies to address China’s defective foods and the fine dust the NPAD said has posed a threat to the nation’s food security and environmental protection. The party also called for strengthened measures to prevent Chinese theft of Korea’s intellectual property.