It was assumed that the ratification of the free trade agreement with the United States would be the focal point of contention when the National Assembly opens its August extraordinary session. The ruling Grand National Party had selected the motion for ratification as one of the main bills to act on in the face of fierce resistance from the opposition Democratic Party.
The ruling party had apparently decided to fight the oppositionists head-on, believing the U.S. Congress would deal with the free trade agreement before it went into summer recess on Aug. 6. But the White House recently indicated that it would not seek congressional approval this summer. If so, the Grand National Party is most likely to shelve the agreement until after the parliamentary regular session opens in September.
But few would bet that the opposition party’s resolve to keep the agreement from being approved would abate in a month or two. On the contrary, it would probably go the extra mile to obstruct the process of ratifying the agreement ― a strategy of endearing itself with labor, farmers and other opponents ahead of the April parliamentary elections.
The opposition party says it is not opposed to free trade with the United States. Instead, it says it is demanding “re-renegotiations” because the treaty, concluded in 2007 after 14 months of negotiations, was seriously altered in favor of the United States when it was renegotiated on request from the Obama administration.
The assertion is not entirely off the mark. But a new round of renegotiations is out of the question because the Obama administration would not have demanded renegotiations in the first place if it was to make the kind of concessions demanded by the opposition party later.
The opposition party is not unaware of realpolitik working behind negotiations with the United States and other world powers. Moreover, the Federation of Korean Industries and other business organizations, which believe the nation will be better off with the renegotiated agreement than without it, demand an early ratification.
Still, the opposition party has selected 12 areas in which it demands corrections be made and say it will obstruct its passage if its demands are not met. The demands, however, are useful to the extent that they serve as effective bargaining chips. The opposition party will have to keep this in mind in negotiating the proposed ratification with the ruling party.