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Opposition parties again vow to block U.S. FTA bill

Five opposition parties on Friday reiterated their vehement disapproval of the free trade pact with the U.S., saying they would mobilize “all possible means” to block its parliamentary passage.

The main opposition Democratic Party also said that the removal of the clauses concerning the Investor-State Dispute Settlement is the “only condition” for its ratification.

Calling some of their worries “unfounded,” the ruling Grand National Party urged them to cooperate in ratifying the pact, which has been languishing in the National Assembly since the two governments signed it in 2007.

The U.S. Congress passed the deal while President Lee Myung-bak was visiting Washington for summit talks with President Barack Obama earlier this month.

“If the Lee government and the GNP should press ahead with the bill, the five parties will muster up our forces through a joint general meeting of all our lawmakers and use all possible means to block its passage,” a joint statement of the five parties said.

The statement was issued after DP leader Rep. Sohn Hak-kyu, Democratic Labor Party leader Lee Jung-hee, Creative Korea Party leader Gong Seong-kyeong, People Participation Party leader Ryu Si-min and Kim Hye-kyung of the New Progressive Party met earlier in the day to discuss their joint response.

The major bone of contention regards the Investor-State Dispute Settlement. Critics argue that the ISD could harm small firms and retailers. The ISD system allows U.S. investors to seek settlements on disputes with the Korean government in the courts of a third country.

“The ISD system allows (the U.S.) to file a suit even concerning (Seoul’s) public policies with the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes. The ruling will then be definitely in favor of the U.S.,” DP floor leader Rep. Kim Jin-pyo said during his party’s Supreme Council meeting.

The ICSID is an institution of the World Bank Group based in Washington D.C. It is dedicated to the conciliation and arbitration of investment disputes between member countries and individual investors.

Opposition parties also claim that the U.S. should recognize products manufactured in South Korean-run factories at North Korea’s Gaeseong Industrial Park as South Korean-made.

GNP floor leader Rep. Hwang Woo-yea stressed that the ISD system is an international standard, adopted in 81 of the total 85 trade agreements Korea has formed over the years.

“Regarding the 81 pacts with the ISD system in place, there has not been even a single case in which our government faced any lawsuit because of that,” Hwang said in a meeting with senior party officials.

“The opposition parties’ apprehension over that is groundless. Let’s not just fight over it. We should show the citizens that the ‘party politics’ and parliamentary democracy are functioning well.”

Meanwhile, DP leader Sohn said the bill to ratify the free trade pact should be dealt with next year following the April general elections, whose outcome he said would reflect public sentiment over the deal.

“We should take sufficient time to discuss it and see what judgment our citizens will deliver on the pact in the parliamentary elections,” Sohn said during his party’s Supreme Council meeting.

“If the content safeguarding our sovereignty and interests should not be included in the pact through a renegotiation, we will block the GNP attempt to pass it until the end.”

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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