Ruling party seeks early action, but opposition demands impact assessment
The National Assembly is set to speed up discussions on South Korea’s free trade deal with the European Union, which the European Parliament ratified on Thursday.
Seoul and Brussels signed their bilateral free trade agreement on Oct. 6 after two and a half years of negotiations, agreeing to tentatively put the pact into effect on July 1.
The pact needs to be approved by the South Korean parliament by no later than June in order to go into effect as scheduled. Rules related to the implementation of the FTA must also pass the National Assembly by then.
The free trade deal is required to be ratified by the 27 member states of the EU before taking full effect.
The ruling Grand National Party seeks to ratify the bilateral FTA as soon as possible, while the main opposition Democratic Party insists the impact of the deal must be thoroughly examined before it is approved.
“There are concerns that the Korea-EU FTA would cause major damage to the domestic livestock, dairy, fisheries, pharmaceutical and chemical industries,” DP spokesperson Jeon Hyun-hee said in a press briefing Friday.
“Through scrupulous examination of the Korea-EU FTA at the February extra session, the DP will focus on sifting out whatever goes against national interests and minimizing the damage to domestic industries.”
GNP floor leader Kim Moo-sung said Friday that the governing party aims to have the Korea-EU FTA pass through the National Assembly this month, but DP floor leader Park Jie-won said this was “physically impossible.”
“We aim to pass a ratification motion for the free trade deal during the extra legislative session in February,” Kim said.
Park said measures to minimize damage on livestock farms, already devastated by the foot-and-mouth disease, must be drawn before ratification.
The GNP’s Rep. Nam Kyung-pil, chair of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, trade and unification, said Friday that the Korea-EU FTA would be put to a vote if there were disagreements between ruling and opposition parties.
“We aim to have the ratification motion pass through the standing committee at this month’s extraordinary session,” which opened Friday, Nam said.
“(The ratification) can be finalized at the extra legislative session in April.”
The DP has requested holding a public hearing on ratification of the Korea-EU FTA, but because a public hearing already took place in November, the committee was considering opening a debate session with FTA experts, Nam said.
“Should there be differences between ruling and opposition lawmakers, we have no choice but to put the motion to a vote,” he said.
“Opposition legislators may reject the motion, but I don’t think they would obstruct the decision-making.”
Nam hinted that the FTA with the United States would not be brought up at the ongoing extra session. The pending deal has not been submitted to the U.S. Congress yet.
By Kim So-hyun (email@example.com)