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Politicians Divided Over FTA

Posted March. 28, 2007 07:34,   


“Negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) with the U.S. is the same as negotiations for tribute,” said Rep. Chun Jung-bae, a member of the Political Group for People’s Livelihood (PGPL).

“A measure that will make Korea into an advanced nation without opening up should be drawn up,” said Rep. Kang Bong-kyun, a member of the Group Pursuing an Integrated New Party (GPIP).

As the deadline for the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement talks, slated for March 31, is drawing near, disputes are escalating among politicians.

In particular, as the issue has emerged as one of the most contentious issues of the upcoming presidential elections, presidential hopefuls such as former Uri Party chairman Kim Geun-tae and Chun have proclaimed to take strong measures to stop it.

While the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), the PGLP, and a faction of the Uri Party are strongly opposing it, the Grand National Party (GNP) is supporting the FTA in principle and the Uri Party and the GPIP are having internal discords over the issue.

Those opposing it are trying to make it the biggest bone of contention through hunger protests and other strong measures to use it as a leverage to seize the upper hand on the political scene. They believe that once the details of the negotiations are made public after the deadline, the anti-FTA sentiment will grow.

Chun started to stage a hunger strike in front of the main complex of the National Assembly on Monday demanding to stop the FTA talks, and Kim also began a hunger strike on Tuesday in front of the Assembly`s main hall. Rep. Im Jong-in, who has recently defected from the Uri Party, has also begun a hunger strike on Tuesday in front of the Assembly’s main complex demanding to stop the FTA negotiations immediately.

Experts point out that there is a high possibility that those who oppose the FTA join forces to oppose the confirmation of Prime Minister-nominee Han Duck-soo as well. Meanwhile, Rep. Kwon Young-ghil of the LDP met with Chun who was staging a hunger strike Monday and suggested forging an alliance. Chun is considering commencing a nationwide protest march once the FTA agreement is reached, according to sources.

However, the Uri Party and GPIP are divided on the issue.

Chung Sye-kyun, the chairman of the Uri Party, met with the Trade Minister Kim Hyun-jong on Tuesday at the assembly building to deliver a statement of Uri Party lawmakers elaborating on the list of items that should be protected or gained at the FTA negotiations.

In this regard, Rep. Chae Soo-chan, however, criticized chairman Chung on Tuesday, saying, “There are several views on the issue. Therefore, the leadership of the party should not have delivered it to the government as if all the party members share the view.” Meanwhile, Rep. Jeong Jang-seon criticized Kim Geun-tae on the same day, saying, “The talks are still in progress. What is the use of taking an extreme measure?”

“Although reaching an agreement in a hurried manner is wrong, I support the FTA in principle,” Chung Dong-young, former chairman of the Uri Party, said after meeting Chun on Tuesday.

The GPIP is also suffering from internal discords. Kang Bong-kyun, a member of the GPIP, said during a debate held by the Korea Forum for Progress in Seoul on Tuesday, “Korea’s political groups considerably lack in the mindset to survive in the global economy.”

Rep. Cho Bae-sook also made a statement on Tuesday, saying, “Even if the Korea-U.S. FTA negotiation is reached, I will spearhead a protest against the parliamentary ratification.” The GPIP is scheduled to hold an emergency close-door workshop at Assembly training center in Incheon on Wednesday to discuss the matter.

In this regard, the GNP, wary of the anti- FTA sentiment, said that if the final outcomes of the talks are not beneficial to the national interests, it may oppose the ratifying of the FTA, though it supports it in principle. “I will try to persuade the public if the FTA will be mutually beneficial. But if not, it should not be implemented,” Rep. Jeon Jae-hee, the chief policymaker of the GNP, said during a telephone interview.

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