Hong: FTA must be ratified before U.S.

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Hong: FTA must be ratified before U.S.

While speculation grows in Washington that the U.S. Congress won’t likely approve the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement before it goes into recess next month, the head of the ruling party in Korea said yesterday that the National Assembly must be the first to ratify the long-pending pact.

“The Korea-U.S. FTA must be ratified in August for the sake of national interest and the people’s livelihood,” Hong Joon-pyo, chairman of the Grand National Party, said yesterday at a senior-level policy coordination meeting between the Lee Myung-bak administration and the ruling party.

Fifty administration and GNP leaders held the discussion on a wide range of issues, including FTA ratification and tuition cuts.

“No matter how good the policies presented by the Lee administration are, they become useless if the National Assembly fails to conclude them,” Hong said. “I will meet with opposition leaders, including Democratic Party Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu, to seek their cooperation.

And the Blue House chief of staff and other secretaries must promote the bill to the public and persuade the opposition parties.”

Hong said it is crucial to conclude the sensitive bills during the August session because the lawmakers will focus on the budget bill and other political issues beginning in September, ahead of next year’s legislative and presidential elections.

“We should regard the August session as the last chance, and the government, ruling party and Blue House must do their best to approve the bill,” he said.

Hong’s remarks came as expectations faded in the United States that Congress will approve the deal before its recess begins on Aug. 6.

“I don’t know if [the FTA will] be approved by August, but we’re moving forward on it,” White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley said Tuesday.

Only about a week ago, Daley pushed the issue hard, saying, “We can no longer wait,” at the U.S.-Korea Business Council in Washington.

His latest position, however, seemed to show he was frustrated that ratification may not come soon. As of now, the Obama administration is preoccupied with drawn-out debt ceiling talks with Republicans in the Congress.

With the process in the United States slowing down, some GNP and government sources said it would be better for the Korean legislature to approve it first during its August session. The argument, however, was not accepted by all GNP members, who want to approve the FTA only after U.S. ratification.

“I don’t see any reason why we want to move ahead of the U.S.,” said GNP Representative Nam Kyung-pil, head of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee. “I will keep two principles - that we will move just a little bit slower than the United States and that no physical force will be allowed for approval.”

Said GNP spokesman Kim Gi-hyeon: “There were reports that the U.S. Congress won’t likely approve the FTA in August, so Nam said at the meeting that we should take that into account and submit the ratification bill later.”

The Democratic Party has fiercely criticized the government and the GNP leadership for trying to push forward the ratification of what it called an “unfair and unfavorable” deal for Korean industries. The DP recently issued 10 demands for renegotiation and two additional compensation measures, making clear their opposition against the current version of the FTA.

In addition to the FTA issue, the government and GNP officials addressed other key policies, including college tuition, housing prices, welfare programs and discrimination against nonregular workers, as well as a youth unemployment measure, tax cut and inflation. The policy coordination meeting is normally done among nine top officials in the Blue House, government and GNP, but yesterday’s session was attended by 50 officials.

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [연합]
국회서 고위당정 개최, `8월국회서 개혁법안 마무리해야`

한나라당 홍준표 대표는 21일 "국익과 민생을 위해 한미 FTAf(자유무역협정) 비준안은 8월에 반드시 통과해야 한다"고 말했다.

홍 대표는 국회 귀빈식당에서 열린 고위 당정협의회에서 "이명박 정부가 아무리 좋은 정책을 제시해도 국회가 이를 완결짓지 못하면 아무런 소용이 없다"며 이같이 밝혔다.

그는 "저도 손학규 대표를 비롯한 야당 대표를 만나 민생법안의 처리에 협조를 구하겠지만 청와대 실장 등 관계수석도 국민에게 법안취지를 알리고 야당 설득에 총력을 다해달라"고 주문했다.

또 "우리가 국익을 위해 옳은 길을 간다는 확신을 갖고 최선을 하면 국민이 우리를 지지할 것"이라고 밝혔다.

홍 대표는 "내년에는 총선과 대선이라는 중요한 정치일정이 있는데 이 정국에 앞서 개최되는 8월 국회에서 사실상 개혁.정책법안을 마무리지어야 한다"며 "9월 정국에서는 예산과 정치쟁점 때문에 예산부수법안을 제외한 다른 법안은 사실상 처리가 어려운 만큼 8월이 18대의 사실상 마지막 국회로 보고 관련법 처리를 위해 당정청이 최선을 다해야 한다"고 강조했다.
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