In Korea, the Cabinet has recently approved a free trade agreement with the United States ― a formality undertaken before the bilateral pact is sent to the National Assembly for ratification. On the other side of the globe, the European Parliament has been taking final steps to approve a similar accord with Korea.
The Korean legislature will soon have to act on the two free trade agreements. But the issue of ratifying them, particularly the one with the United States, will certainly divide not only the political community but also civil society, with advocates and opponents now jockeying for position.
Last week, the International Trade Committee of the European Parliament approved the EU-Korean FTA with overwhelming support. Barring the unexpected, the Parliament will approve it in a vote scheduled for next Thursday. Now the Korean legislature will have to hasten to act on the administration’s motion for ratification, which it received in October last year.
Opposition to the Korea-EU FTA, if any, will not be too strong to surmount either in the National Assembly or in civil society. But the problem lies with the one with the United States.
The reason is simple. The Korean government, which had repeatedly promised not to change even a comma or a period in the document since it was signed in 2007, agreed to renegotiate it and made concessions under pressure from the Obama administration last year.
President Lee Myung-bak’s administration has no one else but itself to blame if it is accused of making humiliating concessions. This criticism aside, the National Assembly is urged to approve the agreement as soon as possible.
Critics are well advised to shun any disruptive action. They should keep in mind that Korea will be better off with the seemingly flawed accord than without it as a nation whose economic progress is mainly powered by exports.