Rep. Kim Jin-pyo, left, floor leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, and his counterpart Rep. Hwang Woo-yea of the ruling Grand National Party look in opposite directions after exchanging greetings during a meeting to discuss the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement at the National Assembly, Friday. / Yonhap
By Chung Min-uck
The floor leaders of the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) and the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) failed to narrow their differences in position on the contentious Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (KORUS FTA) and 14 related bills, Friday.
The two parties only agreed to discuss the issue Monday, a day before the GNP’s self-imposed deadline to approve the trade pact at the National Assembly Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee.
The GNP is maintaining it would accept proposals from the DP that would not harm the final version of the agreement amended at the request of the United States last December, as it doesn’t want to see further delays on the ratification.
In contrast, the DP is urging the government to hold further renegotiations with the United States, citing the unfairness of the pact but kept itself open to accepting the GNP’s offer should the government come up with satisfactory relief measures.
At the meeting, Rep. Hwang Woo-yea, the GNP floor leader, asked his counterpart Rep. Kim Jin-pyo of the DP to cooperate in ratifying the KORUS FTA at the end of the month and the related bills next month. In response, Kim reiterated the opposition party’s position that the relief measures for local industries adversely affected by the free trade pact should come first.
On the same day, the Parliamentary Knowledge Economy Committee, which is in charge of seven KORUS FTA-related bills, also met to discuss the issue but failed to even introduce the bills as members of the DP didn’t attend in protest.
Yet, observers are optimistic over the passage of the bills at the National Assembly claiming that the effectuation of the free trade pact is in the nation’s interest both politically and economically.
“I think it is possible for the two parties to come to an agreement,” said professor Lee Dong-hwi from the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security.
“The reason why we need to ratify the KORUS FTA quickly is that it is pushing China and Japan to move in the interest of Korea. It already shows that they feel the need to sign free trade agreements with Korea. It is an asset for us that we can utilize the KORUS FTA as a leverage dealing with Japan and China to solve diplomatic problems in North East Asia.”
Concerning the so-called “10 plus 2 FTA re-renegotiation” the main opposition party wants, Lee said: “Half of the measures the DP is demanding could be solved through establishing domestic laws and exchanging official letters with the U.S. government without renegotiating. This way the delaying of ratification (of the KORUS FTA) could be prevented.”
Lee explained that among the DP’s list, proposals such as giving tariff benefits to products made in the two Korea’s joint Gaeseong Industrial Complex is still undecided in the agreement and that it could be dealt with after the free trade agreement takes effect.
“I think the lawmakers should narrow the differences for national interest,” added Lee.
Professor Kim Seung-jin of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies also insisted on the need for quick ratification of the bill at the National Assembly citing economic benefits.
“Korea should get into the U.S. market prior to Japan and China. The more we delay the less the advantage. You should know that the world is still living off the American market,” said Kim.
“There is no free lunch in the world. The compensation for the damaged sectors should be dealt with in a different way not by renegotiation.”
According to the latest data from government-affiliated research institutes, the KORUS FTA is expected to increase Korea's gross domestic product by 5.6 percent annually for 10 years, while helping to create an additional 350,000 jobs during the same period.