Lee to write to lawmakers on FTA
Published : Oct 25, 2011 - 20:09
Updated : Oct 25, 2011 - 20:09
Assembly committee to begin deliberation on U.S. free trade deal

President Lee Myung-bak plans to send a letter to parliamentarians urging them to swiftly ratify a pending free trade agreement with the United States, officials at the presidential office said Tuesday.

In the letter to be sent to all 295 members of the National Assembly, Lee will appeal to opposition lawmakers that the ratification motion should at least be processed in accordance with parliamentary rules.

The bill currently stands at the Assembly’s foreign affairs and trade committee. The previous attempt last week to handle the bill to make it ready for a final floor vote was blocked by opposition lawmakers, who occupied the committee room.

“The president is willing to do whatever he can to secure the parliament’s ratification of the KORUS FTA, like he phoned opposition leaders last week,” said an official at the Presidential Office of Cheong Wa Dae.

The move comes a day after the main opposition Democratic Party turned down a proposal from the National Assembly speaker to invite Lee to speak at a plenary session later this week. 
Chief of the Korea International Trade Association SaKong Il (center) speaks at a press meeting on Tuesday in Seoul. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)

Tension was rising in the foreign affairs and trade committee, as member lawmakers were set to begin the first deliberation of the FTA bill in the afternoon.

They failed to narrow down differences in four rounds of debate for over 30 hours.

In a morning session, the committee handled a proposal to strengthen the parliament’s say in future trade deals, which was one of the core demands by the Democratic Party as a precondition for FTA ratification.

The DP and other smaller opposition parties demand additional safeguards for local industries before Korea removes tariffs and import barriers for U.S. products and services. They view the pact as being skewed in favor of the U.S.

The trade pact was first signed in 2007 and then modified last year at the request of the United States. The U.S. Congress already passed its part of the deal earlier this month while Lee was in Washington for summit talks with U.S. President Barack Obama.

The Korean government and the ruling Grand National Party agreed last week to work together to pass the FTA by the end of this month, for it to go into effect in January next year.

Also on Tuesday, chiefs of the country’s five most powerful business lobbies called for a swift approval of the deal, which they say would give a much-needed boost to the Korean economy.

“I’d see this deal as the greatest achievement when we look back into history of the country’s economic development two to three decades later,” SaKong Il, chairman of the Korea International Trade Association, told reporters at a meeting in Seoul.

“The pact has been sufficiently reviewed by policymakers, journalists and academics since Korea first saw the U.S. as a potential free trade partner in 2003,” he said.

Also at the event were Huh Chang-soo of the Federation of Korean Industries, Sohn Kyung-shik of the Korea Chamber of Commerce & Industries, Kim Ki-mun of the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Business and Shin Dong-kyu of the Korea Federation of Banks.

If ratified, the pact would be the largest for the U.S. since the North American FTA with Canada and Mexico, which took effect in 1994. Korea has seven free trade partners with the European Union being the largest.

By Lee Sun-young & Shin Hyon-hee
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