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U.S.-Seoul free-trade pact challenged
S. Korea’s largest opposition party seeks partial rewrite
“This is the political season,” said Hahm Sung-deuk, a political science professor at Korea University. “We have the Seoul mayoral election on Oct. 26, so the opposition want to make the FTA a critical issue.”
On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved the 1,259-page FTA, which had been signed by Seoul and Washington in 2007. The trade deal had languished in Congress over concerns about its potential effect on particular trading sectors, such as the automotive industry and agriculture.
The FTA would reduce or eliminate a host of trade barriers between the U.S. and South Korea for a wide range of goods and services. It is estimated to add up to $12 billion a year to the U.S. $14.7 trillion GDP, according to the U.S International Trade Commission.
“We commend President Obama and President Lee [Myung-bak] for their leadership in finalizing this historic agreement,” said Amy Jackson, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea.
“We expect the Korean National Assembly will also recognize the importance of this agreement to the people and businesses of both countries as well as to our alliance and that they will soon ratify the deal.”
Major South Korean beneficiaries will include conglomerates like Samsung, Hyundai and LG, which will get tariff cuts that are unavailable to their Japanese and Taiwanese competitors in the U.S. market. In addition, inflation-hit Korean consumers will have access to cheaper U.S. goods.
But some sectors will be losers.
“Nothing has been done to determine the extent of damages that will be suffered by farmers, fishermen, small merchants, and small and medium enterprises after the agreement takes effect,” the left-leaning Hankyorah newspaper said in an editorial on Friday.
The paper added that the deal contains provisions “prejudicial to constitutional values and judicial sovereignty.”
The Democratic Party and five smaller splinter groups are calling for a renegotiation of some parts of the FTA, which they say heavily favors the U.S. economy over the resource-strapped South Korean economy.
“The FTA, which the ruling party and the government are seeking to push through, is feared to deepen the rifts within our society and worsen polarization,” Democratic Party leader Sohn Hak-kyu said, calling for greater protection for farmers, Al Jazeera reported.
The party’s floor leader, Kim Jin-pyo, said party members would use tough tactics, including filibustering and occupying parliament, if the ruling Grand National Party tries to force the bill through the assembly.
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