U.S. says it won’t renegotiate FTA’s ISD provision

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U.S. says it won’t renegotiate FTA’s ISD provision

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Washington rejected the possibility of renegotiating the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement to satisfy the opposition’s demand for the removal of a controversial provision on investor-state dispute settlements (ISD), senior officials in Seoul said yesterday, setting the scene for a violent showdown in the National Assembly’s plenary session today.

The deadlock between the ruling Grand National Party and the opposition Democratic Party and Democratic Labor Party continued yesterday over the FTA’s ratification.

While opposition lawmakers continued to occupy the conference room of the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee to block the GNP from sending the FTA bill to the floor, ruling and opposition committee members met in another room and approved the budget for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

At the budget meeting, Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan was pessimistic about the DP’s demand to remove the ISD provision.

“It is difficult for the Korean government to renegotiate with the United States on the ISD provision,” Kim told the committee. “It’s not possible.”

Representatives Yoo Ki-june and Yoon Sang-hyun, both GNP, also quoted Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon as saying that Washington had reacted negatively to the DP’s demand.

“The Democrats want the Lee Myung-bak administration to obtain a promise from Washington to renegotiate the ISD,” Yoon said. “But Kim already conveyed the demand to the U.S., and the U.S. has said ‘no.’?”

Yoon also said asking to renegotiate would put Korea in an embarrassing position of rejecting a global standard. “We welcome the Democrats’ opinions to end the standstill,” Yoon said, “but renegotiating the ISD provision is unrealistic, and it is also impossible for Washington to make a promise for a renegotiation.”

The ISD provision grants foreign investors the right to bring a dispute in Korea to an international arbitration panel. Democrats have said the provision would make small companies and retailers in Korea more vulnerable and have demanded its removal.

With no signs of a new compromise and with indications that the GNP was growing impatient, the possibility of a violent brawl to pass the ratification bill at today’s plenary session grew higher than ever.

“We are at the final moment,” Representative Hong Joon-pyo, GNP chairman, said at a party leadership meeting yesterday. “Approving the FTA is a determined action for the national interest and the people. Using the power of majority is a legitimate action, and we should fight against the opposition parties’ unlawful occupation.”

Representative Lee Myong-gyu, GNP deputy floor leader, said the ruling party would ask Speaker Park Hee-tae today to introduce the FTA directly to the floor for a vote.

But some in the GNP - Representative Hwang Woo-yea, the floor leader, and Representative Nam Kyung-pil, chair of the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee - still expressed hope that the ruling party would give moderate DP lawmakers more time to persuade their colleagues to not engage in a violent melee.

DP Representatives Kim Sung-gon, Kim Dong-cheol, Kang Bong-kyun and Choi In-kee began collecting signatures Tuesday from fellow lawmakers on a compromise proposal on the ISD. Under their proposal, Democrats would not stop the ruling party from ratifying the FTA under the condition that Seoul and Washington immediately begin renegotiations after the trade pact takes effect.

“We have collected verbal or written approvals from about 40 of 87 DP members,” one of the lawmakers said.

But Representative Sohn Hak-kyu, DP chairman, remained adamant that a compromise was not possible.

“To obtain congressional approval, the U.S. president talked directly with Congress for four and a half years,” Sohn said yesterday. “But the Lee administration is trying to railroad the FTA through after only a few months of discussion.”


By Ser Myo-ja, Jung Hyo-sik [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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