MB pushes FTA, opposition keeps pushing back

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MB pushes FTA, opposition keeps pushing back

After a failed attempt to give a speech at the National Assembly urging the ratification of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, President Lee Myung-bak has decided to send letters to lawmakers instead.

Lee planned to give a speech before the main session of the legislature this week. The plan, however, fell through after fierce resistance from opposition lawmakers, the Blue House said.

“If the ruling and opposition parties agree to invite Lee, the president will go to the National Assembly anytime,” Blue House spokesman Park Jeong-ha said.

Lee was warmly welcomed on Capitol Hill in Washington on Oct. 13, the day after American lawmakers approved the free trade agreement, where he spoke about the benefits of the pact. He is less welcome to make his case in his own legislature.

The floor leaders of the ruling Grand National Party and the main opposition Democratic Party discussed Monday the idea of Lee speaking. National Assembly Speaker Park Hee-tae and Representative Hwang Woo-yea, the GNP floor leader, proposed that the ruling and opposition parties invite Lee for the main session, scheduled for Friday, to give a speech, but Representative Kim Jin-pyo, the Democratic Party floor leader, rejected the idea.

Park, the presidential spokesman, said it will take some time before Lee actually sends the letters because the Blue House will keep trying to arrange a speech.

After returning from the United States last week, Lee has been working hard to push the ratification. He hosted two luncheons at the Blue House last week and invited senior members of the National Assembly, including DP Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu, to promote the FTA.

On Saturday, he telephoned five senior opposition members including DP floor leader Kim to persuade them.

The Lee administration has asked the ruling party to pass the FTA as soon as possible so that it can take effect on Jan. 1, 2012. The U.S. Congress ratified the agreement in a near-record five days.

The free trade agreement is currently pending at the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee. Four rounds of discussions took place on the bill from Thursday until Monday at the committee, which included trade experts and government officials, but the bill is still stuck.

The Grand Nationals said yesterday it was time for the committee to vote on the bill, but the Democrats continued to insist that the government must come up with measures to better protect farmers, fishermen and service industry workers before approving the deal.

Floor leaders of the GNP and the DP negotiated yesterday areas of compromise.

The two sides reached an agreement on approving a new Trade Procedure Act to strengthen the National Assembly’s supervision of government negotiations of trade pacts, sources said. The new law is designed to require the government to get approval from the legislature before signing any FTAs with foreign countries, and the Democrats have insisted on it.

The Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee yesterday approved the bill. Of the 28 lawmakers on the committee, 23 lawmakers participated in the voting.

While 18 ruling and opposition lawmakers voted for it, four lawmakers - one Grand National, two Democrats and one Democratic Labor Party lawmaker - rejected it. A GNP lawmaker abstained from voting.

Some lawmakers, even those who voted for it, expressed concerns that the new law could violate the constitution.

Earlier in the day, Democratic Labor Party lawmakers made another attempt to occupy the committee room to block discussion of the FTA, but failed. They successfully occupied the room last week, and GNP Representative Nam Kyung-pil, chairman of the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee, managed to stop them yesterday.

First concluded in 2007 and revised at the end of last year, the FTA was submitted to the National Assembly on June 3. Nam used his authority to push it into the committee on Sept. 16 after 106 days of delay.

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