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Seoul gov't, parliament close to removing last hurdle to EU trade bill

The ratification bill for South Korea's free trade agreement with the European Union is expected to pass the parliament's standing committee later this week, as the South Korean government has responded positively to rival parties' demand to offer transfer tax cuts to small livestock farms, removing the last remaining hurdle to the long-stalled free trade deal, officials and lawmakers said Monday.

The latest breakthrough came at a meeting of representatives of the government and ruling and main opposition parties at the National Assembly, according to Nam Kyung-pil, chairman of the Assembly's foreign affairs and trade committee.

The government and the ruling Grand National Party had been at odds over the scope of tax exemptions for the small-scale livestock farms opting to switch to another trade, with the party demanding that stockbreeders be exempted from capital gains taxes when selling their ranches or farms.

"The government and political parties have reached a broad consensus on the need for tax cuts for small-scale stockbreeders.

The concrete method will be left up to the government," said Nam, adding that both sides will meet again on Wednesday to reach the conclusion.

He noted that both sides have also ironed out differences over the possibility of the FTA running against an existing law that regulates large supermarkets run by retail giants.

Time is running short for South Korea as it agreed to implement the FTA signed last year starting on July 1. The European Parliament approved the deal in February but the prospects for ratification at South Korea's parliament had been clouded by political disputes over translation errors and possible damage to the country's agricultural sector.

In its latest show of disapproval, a subcommittee of the National Assembly's foreign affairs and trade committee voted down the FTA ratification bill last Friday. (Yonhap News)