Standoff in Assembly over passage of EU FTA

JoongAng Daily, Korea

Standoff in Assembly over passage of EU FTA

30 April 2011

By Ser Myo-ja

The prospect of ratifying the free trade agreement between Korea and the European Union before the end of April legislative session appeared to have dimmed as the Democratic Party made clear its opposition.

The Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee finally approved the long-stalled agreement on Thursday, but the Democrats threw a wrench into the process by threatening to boycott the main legislative session, scheduled for yesterday, if a vote was held on the bill.

The clock is ticking. The European Parliament approved the deal on Feb. 17 and the ruling Grand National Party has been trying to ratify the accord before the end of the April session to allow the pact to take effect on July 1 as agreed with the EU.

But the GNP is reluctant to use its majority to pass the legislation over the opposition’s objections because it would be accused of “railroading” the bill, which has become shorthand in Korea for acting arrogantly, especially after its rout in this week’s by-elections. Young, reformist GNP lawmakers have also made clear that they won’t cooperate with any forcible passage.

The Democrats urged the government yesterday to come up with better measures to make up for losses that may be suffered by livestock farmers and small businesses if it wants ratification.

“If the ruling party and the government tried to railroad the ratification motion by using the force of its majority, we will never accept such a move,” DP Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu said yesterday. “Even if we ratify it in June, the accord can still take effect on July 1.”

“If President Lee Myung-bak truly wishes to succeed with the public during the rest of his term, he must never corner the opposition party and railroad a motion,” he said.

Floor leaders of the GNP and DP and their deputies held meetings to discuss how to handle the ratification motion, but no deal was struck as of yesterday afternoon. “The GNP agreed that the motion won’t be discussed at the main session today,” Park Jie-won, DP floor leader, said yesterday.

GNP floor leader Kim Moo-sung, however, spoke of the legislative timetable slightly differently. “I recommend that the National Assembly should vote on the motion today, if the relevant ministries and the two parties manage to reach a compromise,” Kim said. “If not, then we will open an extra session in May no matter what happens.”

While the tug-of-war between the parties continued over the FTA, a series of less sensitive bills went before the National Assembly yesterday, including a ban on computer users under the age of 16 from accessing online game sites from midnight until 6 a.m. starting in November.

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