South Korean parties to clash over FTA

25-04-2008 | |

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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