U.S. speedily ratifies FTA with Korea

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U.S. speedily ratifies FTA with Korea


U.S. President Barack Obama, left, and President Lee Myung-bak, right, with their top officials and translators, enjoy an unofficial dinner at Woo Lae Oak, a Korean restaurant, in Vienna, Virginia, Wednesday, as the U.S. Congress ratified the Korea-U.S. FTA.[Joint Press Corps]

Following the U.S. Congress’s speedy ratification Wednesday of the long-pending free trade agreement between the United States and Korea, the onus is on the National Assembly to follow suit. And while the Lee Myung-bak administration and the ruling Grand National Party pledged to approve the FTA by the end of this month, the path will be bumpy as liberal lawmakers still oppose it.

The U.S. Congress on Wednesday approved the trade deal with Korea, along with similar agreements with Colombia and Panama, only nine days after President Barack Obama submitted them. The pacts will be signed into law by Obama.

The Korea-U.S. FTA, the biggest U.S. trade pact since the North American FTA that took effect in 1994, was first concluded in 2007 and renegotiated late last year.

The passage came as President Lee was having a dinner with Obama on the eve of their summit in Washington. At the unofficial dinner at a Korean restaurant named Woo Lae Oak, Obama received confirmation of the ratification on his Blackberry and congratulated Lee, Park Jeong-ha, presidential spokesman, said. Lee replied that it was a tribute to Obama’s leadership, Park said.

The two leaders had 110 minutes of candid conversation during the dinner, accompanied by some of their top officials, according to the Blue House.

The Senate voted 83-15 to approve the Korea-U.S. FTA and the House 278-151.

According to the Blue House, the speedy passage almost set a record as it took only five working days for the ratification. In 2004, the U.S.-Morocco FTA was also approved in five days.

The congressional passage came on the eve of Lee’s speech at a joint session of Congress. In a meeting with American businessmen earlier Wednesday, Lee once again promoted the FTA by saying it will create jobs in both countries.

“This trip is not about talking about a new issue,” said a senior Blue House official. “It is about upgrading the two countries’ alliance by reconfirming the military alliance’s future and expanding the economic alliance with the approval of the FTA. We are to celebrate this multifaceted global alliance and discuss how to develop it further.”

The official said Lee’s congressional speech will mention the importance of the FTA along with other issues. The summit with Obama on Thursday in Washington, as well as their visit to an auto plant in Michigan on Friday, will also highlight the two countries’ expanded economic ties.

In the Korean legislature, response to the U.S. ratification split along partisan lines. Representatives of the ruling and opposition parties and the government held a consultation yesterday morning to discuss how to handle Korea’s own ratification, but no agreement on the legislative schedule was reached.

While Grand National Party floor leader Representative Hwang Woo-yea demanded that the trade deal should be approved “as soon as possible,” his Democratic Party counterpart Representative Kim Jin-pyo insisted that modifications should be made to the FTA to protect Korean industry further. In July, the Democrats presented what they called a “10 plus 2” measure, with 10 points to be renegotiated and two measures to compensate manufacturers and service industries for losses in the future, and the DP continued to insist yesterday on those demands.

The ratification motion for the FTA is currently pending at the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee.

“We cannot delay the voting indefinitely,” said Representative Nam Kyung-phil, the committee chairman and a Grand National, adding that he believes a comprise is possible.

The Grand Nationals hold 168 seats in the 295-member National Assembly, enough to approve the FTA on their own. But the Democrats have warned that they will try to stop the GNP from railroading the motion through, vowing to use force if necessary. Violent melees in the legislature when the majority party tries to pass bills, although commonplace, have become increasingly unpopular with the public. Both the violent minority and the majority party - which is blamed for not negotiating with its opposition - get public blame.

The GNP leadership has made clear that it wants the FTA to be approved before the end of this month. “We should review the pact at the committee until next Monday and pass it Tuesday,” GNP Representative Yoo Ki-june, a member of the committee, was quoted as saying by Yonhap News Agency. A main session is scheduled to take place on Oct. 28, and the GNP sources said they will attempt a floor vote that day.

While the wrangling over the FTA continues in the National Assembly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued a statement urging lawmakers to approve the deal. “The administration expects a speedy approval of the FTA so that it can take effect on Jan. 1, 2012,” the statement said.

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

한글 관련 기사 [연합뉴스]

오바마, '나라손님' 李대통령 파격 예우

방미기간 맞춰 한미 FTA '초고속 비준'
한미정상 한식만찬ㆍ디트로이트 동행, 李대통령 펜타곤 방문

버락 오바마 미국 대통령을 위시한 미 행정부와 의회가 대한민국 국가원수로는 13년만에 '국빈(國賓)' 자격으로 방문한 이명박 대통령에게 파격적인 예우를 갖춰 눈길을 끌고 있다.

우선 미 의회는 오바마 대통령의 요청에 부응해 이 대통령의 국빈 방문 기간에 맞춰 한미 자유무역협정(FTA)을 비준했다.

이례적으로 하원의 심의 기한을 앞당겼고 한미 정상회담을 하루 앞둔 12일(이하 현지시간)에는 관례를 깨고 상ㆍ하원이 동시에 토론을 진행하면서까지 FTA 이행법안을 처리했다.

미 의회에서 FTA 체결 이행법안에 대해 이처럼 초고속 심의를 한 사례는 지난 2004년 7월 모로코와의 FTA가 유일했다고 청와대는 설명했다.

이 대통령은 또 13일 한국 국가 원수로는 다섯 번째이자 13년 만에 상ㆍ하원 합동회의에서 연설할 예정이다.

오바마 대통령이 이날 워싱턴 D.C. 외곽의 한식당으로 이 대통령을 초청해 비공식 만찬을 함께한 것도 눈에 띄는 대목이다.

미국 대통령이 외국 정상과의 비공식 만찬을 백악관이 아닌 외부에서 한 것도 이례적이지만, 미국 음식이 아닌 상대국의 전통 음식을 메뉴로 선택한 것도 보기 드문 사례라고 한다.

당초 양국 실무진은 경호 문제 등으로 백악관에서 만찬을 준비하려고 했으나, 오바마 대통령이 "이 대통령과 격의없이 얘기하기 위해 외부에서 만났으면 좋겠다"며 한인들이 많이 사는 지역의 한식당을 선택하라고 지시한 것으로 전해졌다.

미국 국방부도 동맹국 정상에 대해 최대한의 예우를 보였다.

이 대통령은 이날 오전 미 국방부(펜타곤)의 요청으로 펜타곤의 심장부인 '탱크룸'을 방문, 미 합참의장으로부터 안보 정세에 대해 브리핑을 받았다.

한국 국가원수로는 첫 펜타곤 방문인데다, 미 합참의장 전용 상황실인 탱크룸에서 외국 정상이 미군 수뇌부 전원이 참석한 가운데 브리핑을 받은 사실 역시 전례가 없는 일이다.

오바마 대통령이 이 대통령의 디트로이트 방문 일정에 동행하는 점 역시 이례적이다.

두 정상은 14일 미시간주 디트로이트의 한 자동차공장을 함께 방문해 한미 자유무역협정(FTA)으로 인한 경제적 이익에 대해 짧은 연설을 할 예정이다.
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