EU FTA may be in jeopardy

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EU FTA may be in jeopardy

The National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee yesterday finally approved the country’s long-stalled free trade agreement with the European Union. But the DP quickly threw a wrench into the process.

With the committee’s approval of the Korea-EU FTA by a vote of 17-2 with six abstentions, the National Assembly was scheduled to vote on the measure today. The European Parliament had already approved the deal on Feb. 17.

But the opposition Democratic Party yesterday threatened to boycott today’s session, which would throw into question whether the Korea-EU FTA could officially take effect in July.

The DP wants the vote to be delayed until a special plenary session in June, believing there is a need to conduct public hearings on the trade pact.

“The DP will not negotiate with the GNP about when the bill will be submitted to the plenary session,” DP floor leader Park Jie-won said.

GNP floor leader Kim Moo-sung said that he is enraged that the DP broke its promise to hold a legislative session today.

Under Korean law, at least half of the 299 assembly members must be present for a plenary session, and more than half of the members attending must give their approval if a bill is to become law. The GNP holds 172 seats and the opposition parties hold the 127 others, including the DP’s 89 seats.

The math is in favor of the GNP, but the ruling party is not sure whether to hold the vote in the plenary session without the DP, which could cause a backlash from the public and opposition parties.

Political observers said the timing is not good given the GNP’s defeat in the by-elections and it is unclear how many GNP legislators would vote to support the bill because some legislators are based in farming regions whose residents oppose the Korea-EU FTA.

“I passed the bill with a fearful mind,” said Rep. Nam Kyung-pil of the GNP, who chaired the committee. “From now on, the government will have to make efforts to resolve the communication problems raised by opposition lawmakers and avoid making the same mistakes in the ratification bill.”

He was apparently referring to the translation errors in the agreement, which has delayed the ratification process since October.

Yesterday’s agreement came after the parliament’s legislative subcommittee rejected the pact earlier this month, citing the translation problem and lack of protective measures for the country’s hog and dairy industries.

Prior to the committee’s vote, Vice Finance Minister Lim Jong-ryong proposed to lawmakers that the government exempt small livestock farms from transfer taxes on sales of cattle sheds and land for the next three years. The measure excludes land used for grazing.

The agreement, if it takes effect, will eliminate 98 percent of import duties and other trade barriers on manufactured goods, agricultural products and services between South Korea and the EU within the next five years.

Meanwhile, the cabinet agreed to withdraw a ratification bill for the Korea-U.S. FTA yesterday because multiple translation errors were found in the Korean text of the pact, the government said.

A new bill will be submitted to the National Assembly next month after the errors are corrected, it said.

In December, both countries reached a final agreement, focusing on U.S. demands that Korea soften its automotive safety and environmental standards, three years after the original agreement was signed in June 2007.

But the deal, known as the KORUS FTA, has yet to be ratified by the legislatures of each country.

Seoul has not, at least publicly, set a timeline for ratification of the trade deal, but the withdrawal of its ratification bill is expected to delay the process by at least a few months, as the parliament will go into a monthlong recess at the end of this month.

The move comes as opposition parties strongly oppose the deal, which they claim would only favor the U.S. auto industry while worsening lives of most Koreans.

This marks the second FTA that has been blocked because of translation errors in its Korean version.

The FTA between Korea and the European Union has already been put on hold twice due to errors.

Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik called on officials to present a new KORUS FTA ratification motion with no translation problems.

“The foreign affairs and other related ministries should do their best to thoroughly examine the original text of the deal and the translated version so they can resubmit a ratification bill without any flaws,” Kim said during the cabinet meeting.

By Kim Mi-ju, Yonhap []

한글 관련 기사 [연합]
[한.EU FTA] 경제계 "비준안 본회의 통과" 촉구

대한상공회의소 등 경제단체들은 28일 한국-유럽연합(EU) 자유무역협정(FTA) 비준동의안이 국회 외교통상통일위원회를 통과한 것에 환영의 입장을 나타내며 본회의에서의 조속한 통과를 촉구했다.

대한상공회의소는 이날 논평을 내고 "비준안의 국회 외통위 통과를 환영한다"며 "본회의에서도 속히 처리돼 올해 하반기부터 우리 기업들이 해외 시장 진출을 확대하는 기회로 활용할 수 있게 되기를 희망한다"고 밝혔다.

대한상의는 "한-EU FTA가 발효되면 질 높고 다양한 EU 제품을 저렴하게 수입할 수 있고 우리 기업의 부품조달선 다변화에도 많은 도움이 될 것"이라며 "아시아에서는 EU 지역과 최초로 FTA를 맺는 국가라는 점에서 정부와 기업이 협력해 EU 지역 선점효과를 극대화하는 활동을 펼쳐야 한다"고 강조했다.

전국경제인연합회 박대식 국제본부장도 "세계 최대 경제권인 EU와의 FTA가 발효되면 관세가 높은 자동차, 섬유, 전자 분야의 수출에 큰 도움이 되고 수입 면에서도 식품산업 등의 선진화에 기여할 것"이라고 말했다.

한국무역협회 관계자는 "번역 오류 등으로 기대보다 조금 늦게 통과된 점이 아쉽지만 지금이라도 통과된 것을 환영한다"며 "세계에서 가장 큰 EU 시장에서 우리 기업이 좀 더 혜택을 받고 수출할 수 있어 무역 1조 달러 실현하는데 한-EU FTA가 기여할 것"이라고 설명했다.

이 관계자는 최근 일본 대지진으로 부품 도입에 어려운 점이 있었다며 부품 조달 측면에서 EU 시장이 대안이 될 수 있다고 지적했다.

한국경영자총협회도 논평을 내고 "한국 경제는 70%를 대외 무역에 의존하고 있는데 이는 곧 일자리의 70%가 대외 무역과 깊은 관계가 있다는 것을 의미한다"며 "한-EU FTA는 경제성장과 고용 확대에 많은 도움이 되기 때문에 본회의에서도 조속히 통과되길 바란다"고 말했다.
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