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Opposition Backs Off From Hard-line on FTA Bill

Posted November. 12, 2008 08:20,   


Opposition parties are backing off from their campaign against the ratification of the free trade agreement with the United States.

Park Jin, chairman of the National Assembly’s Unification, Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee, told a committee meeting that a motion for the ratification will be presented to parliament with consent from both the ruling and opposition parties.

“We will avoid a unilateral push for the passage by the ruling party and seek a reasonable path according to the proper parliamentary process,” he said.

Ruling Grand National Party floor leader Hong Joon-pyo also told a meeting of the party’s legislators in the morning, “To avoid a bipartisan standoff, we will try hard to cooperate with opposition parties,” implying his party will not present the bill before parliament after a public hearing on the deal scheduled for today.

With the softened stance, opposition parties have agreed to allow committee members to visit Washington Monday. On the timing of putting the deal on the parliamentary agenda, they agreed to set the schedule after returning from Washington Nov. 23 based on the results of the visit.

The main opposition Democratic Party, however, maintained that it will snub the public hearing, saying it will be held on the premise of submitting the ratification bill to the National Assembly.

The ruling party retreated from its tough stance to prevent political wrangling over the matter from affecting other parliamentary agenda, such as pending reform bills and setting the budget for next year.

“With a pile of bills to deal with, the National Assembly will suffer further setbacks if we press ahead with the ratification,” Hong said.

Also behind the turnabout is the judgment that unilateral passage will have adverse effects on Korea’s future movements. To effectively counter the U.S. demand for renegotiation, Korea must approve the agreement with the consensus of opposition parties.

Skeptics say, however, that the ruling party is seeking a case for unilateral passage.

“Though the Democratic Party agreed on the visit to Washington, it will unlikely desert its official stance to oppose the trade agreement,” a ruling party official said. “In the end, chances are that the bill will be passed unilaterally. Before that, we should build our case while accepting opposition demands as much as we can.”