Asia-Pacific, Economy & Trade, Headlines

SOUTH KOREA: Opposition Resists U.S. Trade Pact

DOHA, Oct 13 2011 - South Korea’s opposition party has said it will resist any bid to force a sweeping free-trade agreement with the U.S. through parliament, following ratification of the deal by the U.S. congress.

The ruling Grand National Party (GNP) urged opposition legislators on Thursday to swiftly approve the long-delayed deal but the Democratic Party (DP) says the pact is one-sided.

The GNP was negotiating with the opposition to try to pass the deal along with 14 related bills this month.

The GNP has an overwhelming majority in the legislature. But with a general election next April, it has been reluctant to pass the legislation through the house and ignite a televised repetition of past scuffles.

“We should open a new chapter in the Korea-U.S. alliance through the FTA, which will add an economic alliance to the existing military alliance,” Hong Joon-Pyo, the GNP chairman, said on Wednesday.

But the DP and five other splinter groups held a joint rally on Wednesday with activists at parliament and pledged to stop the ruling party forcing the bills through.

“The FTA, which the ruling party and the government are seeking to pus through, is feared to deepen the rifts within our society and worsen polarisation,” Sohn Hak-Kyu, the DP leader, said, calling for greater protection for farmers.

Kim Jin-Pyo, the DP floor leader, said the party would use tough tactics – filibustering and occupation of parliament – if there is an attempt to railroad the bills.

U.S. ratification of the long-delayed pact came as South Korea’s President Lee Myung-Bak paid a state visit to the country’s oldest political and military ally.

Seoul’s foreign ministry said the agreement, especially welcomed at a time of global economic uncertainty, would bolster that alliance.

In a statement it called for swift approval of the deal so it could go into force next year on January 1.

‘Watershed deal’

In Washington on Wednesday, Lee said the trade deal would be a watershed since the two countries signed a military alliance in the wake of the 1950-53 Korean War, in which U.S. forces fought for the South.

He said it would create jobs in both countries and was expected to increase two-way trade by more than 50 per cent by 2015.

The U.S. is South Korea’s third biggest trade partner after China and the European Union, with trade worth 88 billion dollars last year. Seoul enjoyed a 10 billion dollar advantage.

Resource-poor South Korea, whose economy is powered by exports ranging from ships to semiconductors, has aggressively pursued free trade accords. Seven are in effect, including deals with the European Union, India and Southeast Asia.

The U.S.-South Korea deal was signed in June 2007, but was partially renegotiated last year to give U.S. car manufacturers greater access.

The DP, which was in office in 2007, says the revision tilted the agreement in favour of Washington and wants renegotiation.

Analysts said that among South Korean companies, the agreement would most benefit auto, technology and textile companies.

“The biggest beneficiaries will be the auto makers and auto parts vendors. Imposed tariffs on auto parts will be immediately removed,” WS Lee, an analyst at Taurus Investment & Securities, told Dow Jones Newswires.

On the U.S. side, the U.S. International Trade Commission estimated in 2007 that a deal would increase exports to South Korea by 10-11 billion dollars annually.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Korea (ACCK) urged Korean legislators swiftly to ratify the pact.

“This is an historic moment that will strengthen the U.S.-Korea alliance by adding a third economic pillar to the already strong relationship,” Pat Gaines, ACCK’s chairman, in a statement.

* Published under an agreement with Al Jazeera.

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