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KORUS FTA at Risk of Faltering

Posted May. 26, 2008 07:52,   


The free trade agreement between Korea and the United States is on the verge of breaking down due to opposition both at home and abroad.

The government and the ruling Grand National Party have been pushing for the ratification of the trade deal within the term of the 17th National Assembly to pressure the U.S. administration and Congress afterward. The opposition parties, however, are against the plan. The United Democratic Party, the Liberal Forward Party and the Democratic Labor Party, the combined number of seats of which comprises the majority of the parliament, made it clear yesterday that they have no intention to accept the GNP’s call for an extraordinary parliamentary session from May 26 to May 29.

Barack Obama, who is likely to become the Democratic presidential candidate, also clearly expressed his opposition to the bilateral deal, a move that will add to the uncertainty of the future of the FTA.

He called the bilateral trade pact “badly flawed” in a letter sent to President George W. Bush on Friday, and urged him not to submit the deal for a congressional vote.

Obama argued in the letter that the agreement gives Korean exports “essentially unfettered access to the U.S. market and would eliminate our best opportunity for obtaining genuinely reciprocal market access in one of the world’s largest economies.”

Hong Joon-pyo, the GNP’s next floor leader, said on Sunday, “Obama’s criticism of the deal proves how beneficial the KORUS FTA deal is for us. We should waste no time in passing the deal to urge the United States to do the same.” The GNP is making every effort in passing the FTA, such as by calling for a bipartisan leadership meeting.

The UDP’s spokeswoman Cha Young said in response that the outcome of the U.S. presidential election would decide the fate of the KORUS FTA, adding, “If Korea alone ratifies the FTA, we are sure to lose whatever leverage we have.”

Since it is the presidential election year in the United States, Congress will not be able to pass the deal from September, which means the deal should be submitted by mid July at the latest. For Korea to put pressure on the U.S. Congress, the FTA should pass the National Assembly by late June or early July.

It all depends on how the negotiation for forming the 18th National Assembly goes. The UDP intends not to agree to any formation plan unless the government agrees to renegotiate the beef import deal with the United States. The parliamentary formation could be delayed to as late as July. If the representatives of the Pro-Park Alliance return to the GNP and that the UDP takes issue with it, the formation could be delayed further.

The GNP’s spokeswoman Cho Yun-seon said, “If we fail to ratify the KORUS FTA on time for political reasons, the U.S. presidential election season will begin and prevent the U.S. Congress from making important decisions. If Sen. Obama wins the election, the FTA will lose the only opportunity of ratification for good.” She added, “The worst case scenario is the nullification of the FTA. It could come true.”

jkmas@donga.com sechepa@donga.com