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US Senate removes biggest hurdle to FTA ratification

Dong-A-Ilbo, Seoul

US Senate removes biggest hurdle to FTA ratification

24 September 2011

The U.S. Senate has approved the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a worker training program that has been the largest stumbling block to the ratification of the bilateral free trade agreement with Korea.

The Senate voted 70-27 to renew the program along with a bill that extends the General System of Preferences.

As the extension has passed the Senate, Congress is expected to ratify the agreement soon ahead of Korean President Lee Myung-bak`s state visit to the U.S. scheduled for Oct. 13.

"The dominant view in the U.S. administration and Congress is that the ratification procedure will likely be completed in October at the latest," Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon told Korean journalists in Washington Thursday.

Korea`s National Assembly will also likely begin deliberation of the pending bill on the accord. The ruling and opposition parties, which introduced the ratification bill Sept. 16, have agreed to postpone the deliberation until Congress passes the extension bill for the worker training program.

"The condition to begin our deliberation of the bill has been met," said ruling Grand National Party Rep. Nam Kyung-pil, who chairs the National Assembly`s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee, in a phone interview with The Dong-A Ilbo. "The committee will begin deliberation after Oct. 6, when the parliamentary audit (of the administration) ends."

"It`ll be difficult to ratify the bill before President Lee`s visit to the U.S. due to the audit schedule. But we`ll do our best to approve the ratification bill after accepting reasonable demands from opposition parties."

Meanwhile, President Lee said in a meeting with ethnic Koreans in Seattle that the free trade deal will be implemented "soon."

"I anticipate that the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives will invite me and treat me as a guest (when I make a state visit Oct. 13)," he said, implying hope that the Korean parliament will make tangible results in treating the pending ratification bill.