Sohn’s shameful stanceThe free trade agreement between Korea and the European Union passed the National Assembly in a unilateral vote by the ruling Grand National Party Wednesday night as opposition parties boycotted the session. A landmark trade pact with one of the world’s largest markets missed a full legislative blessing because main opposition Democratic Party Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu voiced opposition to ratification.
It is disappointing to see Sohn take steps toward a presidential campaign with an eye on achieving self-serving interests rather than national interests. Sohn last week defeated the former GNP chairman in the traditionally conservative Bundang B District, gaining political momentum for the upcoming presidential race.
Moreover, Sohn, as head of the main opposition party, broke a hard-won agreement made earlier between floor leaders of the two major parties to ratify the free trade deal. The agreement was made after long working-level negotiations in which the ruling party conceded to many of the DP’s demands.
DP members even agree that GNP floor leader Kim Moo-sung tried hard to persuade the government to accept the DP proposals to the trade bill, which already passed the European Parliament in February.
Sohn, however, decided to shun the deal for the sake of maintaining a coalition with the other opposition parties. He concluded that his party cannot go along with the ruling party when all other splinter opposition parties disapproved. He cannot lose their favor in case he needs to woo them for the general and presidential elections next year.
But a deal like the FTA should not be held hostage to political aspirations. It is not an ideological issue but an economic imperative that can bring dramatic changes to the lives of ordinary people and create business opportunities. Korea’s income mostly comes from external trade, and the EU is the world’s largest market.
The FTA offers unrivaled market access. Some sectors will suffer losses for the sake of broader market opening. That’s why authorities concocted various support measures, including subsidies and regulations, to minimize potential damages. This had been achieved in working-level discussions between the two parties.
The main opposition party - as it seeks to regain power next year - should assert more responsibility and credibility. The DP should not fall easily into an ideological trap. Sohn should be more far-sighted, if he has greater ambitions.