The Hankyoreh | Feb. 26 2011
Translation errors in KOREU FTA’s 23 versions prompt outcry for correction
The Lee administration was compelled to accept the correction and refer the ratification bill again to the National Assembly
By Jung Eun-joo
The Lee Myung-bak administration announced plans Friday to submit a new South Korea-European Union Free Trade Agreement (KOREU FTA) ratification motion to the National Assembly correcting a translation error present in the text submitted in October 2010. However, concerns were raised about additional errors after it was confirmed that the Office of the Minister for Trade (OMT) in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade did not independently verify translations in the languages of 21 other European Union nations. Previously, the OMT’s announcement of its intent not to withdraw the ratification even after discovering that certain figures in the KOREU FTA differed from those in the English-language version, calling it a “working-level mistake,” provoked charges that it was violating National Assembly legislation rights.
The translation error was first noted on Monday by Song Gi-ho, an attorney who specializes in trade law.
“In the English text of the FTA, it says that product in the toy and wax areas are recognized for place of origin and subject to duty benefits if they contain less than 50 percent foreign-made materials, while the Korean text gives different figures, showing 40 percent for toys and 20 percent for wax,” Song explained.
In response, the OMT acknowledged that it was “true that there is a numerical error in the Korean version” and said that it was “discussing a revised draft with the National Assembly.”
According to Article 90, Item 3 of the National Assembly Act on “Bill Revision and Withdrawal Rights,” correcting the error in the agreement would require withdrawing the ratification motion, creating a revised motion, and beginning review procedures once again with the Cabinet. However, the OMT indicated plans to ratify the agreement as is without correction, calling the translation error a “working-level mistake.” Instead, the OMT said that it would discuss matters with the EU and correct the error at a binational trade committee meeting after the FTA takes provisional effect on July 1.
The move prompted criticisms from Democratic Party Lawmaker Park Joo-sun, who called it a “violation of National Assembly legislation rights,” but the OMT held out, maintaining that “because the European Parliament already approved the text with the error [versions in 23 languages, including Korean], it is impossible for South Korea alone to correct the error.” It also belatedly submitted copies of the KOREU FTA text in 21 languages besides Korea and English to the National Assembly.
When the OMT’s approach was met with criticism both from the opposition and from ruling Grand National Party lawmakers, Minister for Trade Kim Jong-hoon paid a visit late Thursday evening to Nam Kyung-pil, chairman of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification committee, and promised to correct the Korean version and resubmit the motion to the National Assembly. In response, Nam said that if the OMT sent the revised motion to the National Assembly, he would introduce it in the standing committee on March 3.
The controversy did not end there, however. In a government Q&A session Friday, Park Joo-sun asked whether Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Kim Sung-hwan whether the ministry had examined the versions in the 22 other languages, which will have legal force in 27 member nations of the EU.
In response, Kim said, “The EU confirmed that the [translation] verification was finished before sending it to us, so we view the verification as completed through that.”
However, Park raised the possibility that additional errors might be discovered, saying, “Even after it was confirmed that the Korean version was in error, the Foreign Ministry did not verify the versions in other languages itself.”