중앙데일리

FTA talks race to finish as U.S. politics loom

Democrat-controlled Congress could be a factor in negotiations

Mar 29,2007
Farmers throw rice grains on the road near the Namdaemun Gate in central Seoul yesterday in a surprise protest against the free trade agreement negotiations between the United States and South Korea. [YONHAP]
With Democrats in Washington using their strength to gain concessions on free trade agreements from the Bush administration, South Korea and the United States inched toward a looming deadline for their hard-fought pact, with progress on some service sectors.
Tension remained on the third day of the higher-level talks yesterday, and the key issues of automobiles and rice have yet to be discussed in this final round.
The Democrats, who now control the U.S. Congress, say they want stronger labor provisions in any deal and the heat turned up on labor practices.
So far in talks that are supposed to draw to a close on March 31, both parties have agreed to leave 19 areas and 88 areas in the United States and Korea, respectively, closed to each other.
The deadline is because President George W. Bush’s trade negotiating authority expires on July 1 and it will take time to get the pact through Congress before that time.
The Democrats hold the key to extending the authority, but they will require the labor provisions in any deal. Powerful Democratic Representative Charles Rangel said it was a matter of “restoring bipartisanship to trade.”
In the talks in Seoul, the two sides also have yet to agree on whether Korea will loosen regulations barring foreign investors from holding more than a 49 percent stake in cable television broadcasters.
Meanwhile, the Democratic-ruled Congress may be another obstacle to a successful conclusion to a Korea-United States FTA. Democrats say they intend to have clauses in FTAs that force the trade agreements to abide by core international labor standards.
The Bush administration had signed FTAs with Colombia and Peru last year, but is having problems passing the pacts in Congress because of the demand to apply stricter labor standards. A pact with Panama is still pending because of unsettled labor issues.
The Democratic Party had already expressed their concerns on labor issues to the Korean negotiating team before the seventh round of talks held in February in Washington.
“Most of the labor-related issues have been settled, but we are waiting for the U.S. Congress to exactly define what they are demanding [regarding labor matters],” said a Korean negotiator who declined to be identified. “We are continuously checking whether the Bush administration and its team received anything from the Congress, but the only answer we get is ‘not yet,’” said the official.
“The demands are not just ‘fake’ ones to give more power to the U.S. negotiator,” noted Park Hyun-soo, senior research fellow at the Samsung Economic Research Institute. “There is the possibility that in return for extending the trade promotion authority, the Democrats’ demands will get stronger.”
The researcher said that the Democrats want strict labor policies because they do not want Korean companies to have an advantage by having more leeway regarding labor.
With only two days left, politicians here continued to battle over the issue. Former Uri Party chairman Kim Geun-tae continued his anti-FTA hunger strike, which the Grand National Party has called a “political show.” Yun Kun-young, a Grand National Party lawmaker, outlined seven principles, such as not opening up the rice market, as a precondition to an agreement.
Former GNP politician Sohn Hak-kyu endorsed the free trade talks yesterday, arguing that opening the trade borders is the right move in a globalized world.
Kwon Young-ghil, a Democratic Labor Party lawmaker, held a meeting with like-minded lawmakers and voiced his opposition to the ongoing negotiations.



By Hwang Young-jin, Brian Lee Staff Writers [yhwang@joongang.co.kr]



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