&#91EDITORIALS&#93Stop stalling on free trade

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&#91EDITORIALS&#93Stop stalling on free trade

The free trade agreement with Chile which has been signed by the administrative branch is waiting at the National Assembly for approval. When the trade pact was concluded in February, we welcomed it as a breakthrough in Korea’s efforts to promote freer trade with other economies. We understand that Chile’s legislature will ratify the agreement soon, but it is not yet clear whether the Korean National Assembly will approve it. Some worry that if the Assembly vetoes the treaty, Korea’s competitiveness will be hurt.
So far, 140 lawmakers have said they support farmers who oppose ratification. Some legislators reportedly want to stall the Assembly’s consideration of the treaty, although they say they are worried about the economic crisis and Korea’s international competitiveness. Of course legislators have to listen to their constituents, but this pandering to an interest group goes far beyond that.
A bill to subsidize farmers who are hurt by the free trade agreement, proposed as a package with the ratification, is also still pending. The proposal would use 800 billion won ($667 million) over seven years to assist the farm sector. That would address some of the farmers’ concerns, but most of the money would be raised by increased taxes on businesses. The Ministry of Planning and Budget and the Ministry of Agriculture are also at odds over which agency should be in charge of designing a program to raise the money.
In the trade agreement with Chile, items like rice and apples, in which Chile is more competitive than Korea, are excluded from trade liberalization. Chilean grapes will be subject to seasonal tariffs and Korea can impose emergency tariffs on them if necessary. Chile would provide Korea a bridgehead for Korean industrial goods sales in the South American market.
There is no precedent anywhere in the world for the veto of a free trade agreement signed by both nations. Countries all over the world are desperate to conclude free trade pacts because such agreements are in their economic interest. Our legislators should be reminded that their decision will be judged by the international community.
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