The chief of the Korean parliamentary trade committee on Friday hinted at the possibility of the ruling party going ahead with a vote on the free trade pact with the U.S.
The National Assembly was deadlocked for its third consecutive day Friday, as members of the main opposition Democratic Party staged a sit-in protest to stop the Grand National Party from railroading the agreement through.
The bill awaits a trade committee vote before heading to the final vote in the 299-member unicameral house where the ruling GNP has 168 seats.
The Korea-U.S. FTA, first signed in 2007 and revised December last year, has been one of the most disputed issues in the Korean legislature, with opposition parties claiming the revised bill favors Washington’s interests.
The U.S. Congress gave the green light to the bill last month as President Lee Myung-bak was visiting the country for a summit meeting with President Barack Obama.
“We will use the weekend to continue discussions and efforts to reach a compromise,” Nam Kyung-pil, chairman of the Assembly trade committee told a press gathering Friday.
“But, we will be forced to take the procedures within the boundaries of democracy and parliamentary laws should this kind of situation continue,” Nam, who belongs to the ruling party, said.
Another ruling party member said that the party will ask the Assembly speaker to put the bill to a vote with or without the opposition party’s participation should the deadlock continue through the weekend.
The GNP accused the opposition lawmakers of neglecting their duty by delaying the vote for political reasons ahead of the big elections next year.
“We plan to ask Speaker Park Hee-tae to use his authority and put the bill to a vote,” the member said on condition of anonymity, adding that such a move was a “legal measure” stated in parliamentary law.
Rival parties are in disagreement over the Investor-State Dispute Settlement, or the ISD, clauses that critics believe could harm small local firms and retailers, and protection measures for local farmers.
“We could put the bill to a referendum or ask public opinion via the parliamentary elections next year,” Sohn Hak-kyu, chief of the DP, told reporters, adding that a growing number of people were recognizing the problems related to the ISD clauses.
Sohn also told a party meeting later in the day he would push for collaboration with smaller opposition parties by December to prepare for the elections next year.
The party leader said he would ask all party members for their opinion on the issue via a Dec. 18 in-house vote.
Opposition parties believe the ISD clauses ― which allow foreign investors to bring a suit against the government before an international panel of arbitrators ― have the potential to cause legal disputes with U.S. investors who want the Korean government to scrap its protection policies for small firms and retailers. The ruling party believes the clauses will not affect the autonomy of the government.
Sohn said his party will “stand on the edge of the cliff until the last moment if necessary” to block the passage of the FTA.
The DP has demanded the ISD be removed from the trade pact, claiming the provision would limit Seoul’s policies on American investors.
The next Assembly plenary session is scheduled for next Thursday.
By Shin Hae-in (firstname.lastname@example.org