Uncertainties are growing over the passing of bills regarding regulation reform, as promised by the three major political parties’ negotiation bodies, in the August provisional session of the National Assembly. None of primary regulation reform bills – the Special Act on Regulation Free Zones, the Basic Law on Service Industry Development, the Special Law on Internet-only Banks, and the Act on Personal Information Protection – has been passed by legislation and judiciary subcommittees of the relevant standing committees. If the ruling and opposition parties fail to reach agreement within two days before the plenary session of the National Assembly on Thursday, regulation reform will only remain a far-fetched mission.
The three main ruling and opposition parties’ floor leaders reconfirmed their commitment to address the pending issues on the day. However, it is disappointing to see the pace of discussions at each standing committee and inaction at the National Assembly level. The ruling and opposition parties agreed to allow the Trade, Industry, Energy, SMEs, and Startups Committee to integrate and deliberate the Special District Act and the Special Act on Regulation Free Zones. Nevertheless, any agreement has yet to be reached by committee members, who cited that the scale and range of the bills in question require further review. Added to this, the ruling Minjoo Party has reiterated its case to exempt the healthcare and medical industries from the Basic Law on Service Industry Development, necessarily causing a standstill.
The same goes with the lessening of banking-commerce separation, one of the main regulation reforms pointed out by South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The ruling party makes a case to exclude Korea’s major conglomerates with more than 10 trillion won in asset – subject to restrictions on mutual investment among their subsidiaries – from the eased banking-commerce separation rules, but to allow exemptions for companies with more than half their business focused on ICT. Even with a compromise option by the ruling party, the opposition Liberty Korea Party has not given an inch, maintaining that every kind of industrial capital has to be free of regulation. Also, a huge gap between the ruling and opposition parties has hindered discussion regarding the relief of regulation to use personal information. The Public Administration and Security Subcommittee discussed the issue only once on Wednesday.
The three main political parties agreed to combine and pass various bills regarding public livelihoods and regulation reform at once. Having said that, they are still at odds with each other, which leaves no option but to discuss the relevant bills for regulation reform in the September plenary session of the National Assembly at earliest. It is not timely to stay in a tug-of-war to seize the initiative, pushing each other so close to the edge of the cliff. Meanwhile, the worst-ever employment crisis is suffocating Korean citizens. Nevertheless, the Basic Law on Service Industry Development, aimed at innovating the service sector with abundant job opportunities, has still remained a pending issue for the past seven years, since it was first introduced in 2011.
The National Assembly mired in political dispute has served as a blocking stone to regulation reform and innovative growth. On the other hand, there is a stigma of the "regulation-producing factory" attached to legislators due to their obsessive attempts to propose as many bills as possible only for show. It may make perfect sense that business leaders are complaining about the National Assembly, calling it a cascade of regulations. The National Assembly will never be able to solicit forgiveness from the public, if it lets politics continue to hold back job creation and improvements in the livelihoods of people.