News last update:6 Aug 2012

South Korean parties to clash over FTA

A one-month extraordinary parliamentary session will assemble today amid expectations of heated wrangling among rival parties over the ratification of a free trade deal with the United States.

US trade representative Susan Schwab recently said the Bush administration will soon submit the South Korea-US free trade agreement bill to the Congress so it could be enacted before Congress adjourns in September.

Korean parties are split over whether to vote on the motion to ratify the free trade agreement (FTA) with Washington and bills on corporate deregulation during the session.

Hoping for prompt ratification of the FTA, the South Korean government agreed last week to open its market to all US beef parts, regardless of the age of the cattle they come from, in return for Washington's improvement of cattle feed safety standards.

Beef deal
If the deal takes effect, it will be the first time in almost five years for Seoul to allow the importation of bone-in beef from US cattle that are more than 30 months old, a move that has raised local concerns over mad cow disease.

The beef deal has been a key condition for ratification of the FTA that has been pending in the legislatures of the two countries since September last year, although beef is not on the FTA agenda.

President Lee Myung-bak's Grand National Party (GNP) hopes to facilitate the passage of the FTA and a number of key bills by the current legislature -- whose term expires on May 29 -- to provide the new administration with some impetus for its economic initiatives.

Bying time
Opposition parties have joined forces in an attempt to nullify the beef deal and buy more time on settling the FTA issue.

The free trade deal has been billed as the most significant event in South Korean-US relations since the two countries signed their military accord in 1953.

Economically, it is expected to boost two-way trade - already worth $79 billion a year - by as much as $20 billion in the coming years.

Since the conclusion of the FTA last year, Korean farmers have demanded countermeasures, fearing they will not be able to compete with cheap imported products.

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