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Rival Parties Clash Over FTA Ratification

Posted November. 10, 2008 08:25,   


Rival parties are set to lock horns over parliamentary approval of the free trade agreement with the United States.

The ruling Grand National Party said yesterday that it will submit this week a motion for the deal’s ratification to the National Assembly’s Unification, Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee. The main opposition Democratic Party, however, said it will prevent its rival from laying the motion before parliament.

Separately, opposition parties foiled the ruling party’s plan to dispatch committee delegations to Washington in time for the opening of the U.S. Congress’ three-day lame-duck session starting Nov. 17.

The ruling party has planned to hold a public hearing on the agreement Wednesday for additional measures, submit a ratification bill to the Assembly, and engage in in-depth discussions with opposition parties.

“Our original plan was to submit the motion between Monday and Friday this week,” said Grand National Party spokesman Yoon Sang-hyun. “If mutual agreement is not forthcoming, we can approve the bill through a parliamentary vote.”

“If sending foreign affairs and trade committee officials to Washington is impossible, we will send them again to persuade the U.S. administration and Congress in early December when the incoming administration is about to finish forming its Cabinet.”

Lee Hye-min, Seoul’s chief negotiator for the agreement, also denied that early ratification by Korea’s parliament will put the country at a disadvantage. “That argument is tantamount to inviting renegotiation,” he told The Dong-A Ilbo over the phone.

“If Korea approves the deal, the United States will have no case for opposing ratification. With a hardly won ratification, achieving re-ratification after renegotiations is out of the question.”

Some in the ruling party, however, say the deal’s approval without the consent of opposition parties is unreasonable. So experts say political wrangling over the agreement is inevitable in the regular parliamentary session.

The main opposition Democratic Party opposes the submission of the bill under the principle of “countermeasures first, ratification later.” It will also snub the hearing on the deal and is against foreign affairs and trade committee members traveling to Washington.

“Considering the importance of the ratification on the people’s livelihood as well as the country’s industries as a whole, a special parliamentary committee is needed,” said party spokesman Cho Jung-sik, reaffirming his party’s stance to prevent unilateral approval of the deal.

The Democratic Party said it will do everything it can to prevent the ruling party from pushing for the submission of the bill.

Democratic Party lawmaker and foreign affairs committee member Moon Hak-jin indicated the possibility of occupying the National Assembly, saying, “If the committee chairman exercises his authority to submit the bill, we will physically prevent it.”

The party will come up with detailed action plans on the deal at a lawmaker’s workshop today.

The minor conservative Liberty Forward Party said it will participate in the hearing though it opposes the motion’s submission this week. On the deal’s ratification, the party suggested a new subcommittee.