National Assembly Speaker Park Hee-tae, center, requests Rep. Lee Jung-hee of the Democratic Labor Party, to his right, to step down after taking back his seat at the National Assembly in Yeouido, Seoul, Wednesday night, following a brawl over ratification of a free trade deal with the European Union.
By Na Jeong-ju, Lee Tae-hoon
Despite strong protests from opposition parties, the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) Wednesday railroaded a ratification bill of the free trade deal with the European Union.
Of the 169 lawmakers, mostly GNP lawmakers, who participated in the vote, 163 voted for the ratification, while one opposed it and five abstained.
With the parliamentary endorsement, the Korea-EU free trade agreement (FTA) will take effect July 1 as agreed upon by Korea and the world’s largest trading block.
A day earlier, senior lawmakers of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), including its floor leader Park Jie-won, agreed to endorse the FTA after winning concessions from the government and the GNP.
However, the DP immediately reversed its position and demanded a delay of the National Assembly session as Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu and other DP lawmakers, as well as minor opposition parties expressed strong discontent over the agreement.
The DP boycotted the vote over fears of a rift within the party and a backlash from other opposition parties.
Three minor opposition parties, the Democratic Labor Party and New Progressive Party and People’s Participation Party, harshly criticized the DP, saying it had broken a promise to form a joint front to deter the bill’s passage.
The four made the agreement when forming a coalition for the April 27 by-elections, in which they won three out of four key posts, including an Assembly seat in Bundang, Gyeonggi Province and a gubernatorial post in Gangwon Province.
Parties have been divided over the size of government support measures for the country's agriculture sector expected to be negatively influenced by the FTA with the 27-member European economic block.
Last week, a parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and trade approved the ratification motion for the long-stalled trade pact.
The FTA was agreed to last year and the European parliament approved it in February.
The deal will eliminate 98 percent of import duties and other trade barriers in manufactured goods, agricultural products and services between Korea and the EU within the next five years.
On Tuesday, the DP and GNP reached a consensus to increase monetary compensation for farmers if they see prices of agricultural or dairy products drop over the first 10 years after the FTA takes effect.
Farmers will be eligible for compensation if prices fall below 85 percent of a reference price and they will receive up to 90 percent compensation for their losses.
Under the current rule on such compensation, farmers become eligible if prices drop below 80 percent of the reference price, and they may only be compensated for 80 percent of the losses.
The DP and GNP agreed to revise an existing law on regulating large supermarkets that could run against the FTA.
Currently, retail giants known as Super Supermarkets (SSMs) cannot open in areas within a 500-meter radius of traditional markets for at least three years.
Under the revision, the distance cap will increase to a 1-kilometer radius and the restriction period will be five years.