GNP sets plan to railroad FTA bill

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GNP sets plan to railroad FTA bill

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The ruling Grand National Party condemned the Democratic Party for slamming the door on further compromise over the ratification of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement and huddled through yesterday night deciding whether to railroad the bill through the National Assembly.

“The opinion is converging that the passage of the Korea-U.S. FTA is not a choice but a necessity for a country that depends on trade for as much as 87 percent of its economy,” said Representative Lee Doo-ah, a GNP spokeswoman, during a media briefing at 4 p.m., two hours after the party meeting began. Among the 169 GNP lawmakers, about 140 attended the meeting.

“But, there is some difference among the lawmakers in how to ratify it, when and through what procedure,” she said.

On Wednesday, the DP rejected President Lee Myung-bak’s offer to renegotiate the contentious investor-state dispute settlement (ISD) provision with the United States following the FTA’s ratification.

During the GNP meeting yesterday, Representative Hwang Woo-yea, the GNP floor leader, likened the DP’s opposition to the isolationist policy of the Joseon Dynasty in the late 19th century, which eventually was followed by Japan’s 35-year colonial rule. “We can’t help but remember history, in which an isolationist policy ... turned the spirit of ruling the sea ... into defeatism and then led to the loss of our national sovereignty,” Hwang said.

If the GNP decides to push the ratification by using its majority in the Assembly, it may do so next Thursday when a plenary session is scheduled. The next plenary session is scheduled for Dec. 2.

The bill is currently pending at the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee, but there is a possibility that Speaker Park Hee-tae, a former GNP member, could use his power to put it directly up for a floor vote at a plenary session, bypassing a committee vote.

The GNP fears a violent backlash from the opposition both in the committee and on the Assembly floor if it uses its majority. Many GNP lawmakers are fearful of being involved in the violent melees that are common in the Korean legislature, but which have become unpopular with the public. Younger lawmakers are particularly fearful of how it will affect their chances of re-election next April.

According to the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee yesterday, the GNP recently replaced Representatives Kim Se-yeon and Yoo Il-ho, two of its members on the committee who were known to oppose railroading the bill through, with Representatives Ahn Sang-soo and Lee Yoon-sung.

The DP also replaced three of its members on the committee Sunday with party stalwarts Chung Dong-young, Lew Seon-ho and Kim Yung-rok, raising the likelihood of a physical clash at a committee.

“If the GNP tries to ratify the Korea-U.S. FTA through brawls, which people hate and would hurt the nation’s image, it will boomerang to create distrust towards party politics and the party will face public resistance,” Representative Kim Jin-pyo, the DP floor leader, said at a party meeting yesterday.

President Lee, before leaving for an Asean +3 Summit yesterday, expressed regret about the lack of progress in the ratification, citing moves by other countries like Japan and Taiwan to join a Pacific free trade deal. Lee is scheduled to return Tuesday after attending the Asean +3 Summit and the East Asian Summit in Bali, Indonesia, and visiting the Philippines on Monday.

Meanwhile, a group of 295 local scholars, journalists and legal experts held a press conference yesterday urging lawmakers to quickly ratify the FTA, saying the Korea-U.S. FTA is the right “choice for the future of a country living on trade.”

“The political camps, buried under partisan interests and a cost-benefit calculation regarding the general election and presidential election next year, are unyieldingly fighting each other with the FTA taken as hostage,” the group said in a statement.


By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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