Assembly committee pushes two FTAs forwardThe National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee passed two bills to ratify free trade agreements with Australia and Canada yesterday, opening the window for Korea’s 10th and 11th free trade pacts to be fully ratified by the legislature by Dec. 2 at the latest.
Lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties belonging to the committee passed the two bills after they reached an agreement on compensation measures for livestock farmers who will be affected by the FTA with Australia.
A bill for the ratification of the Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement was submitted to the parliament in September and was sent to the trade committee on Nov. 6 along with the treaty with Canada.
Reflecting worries of the livestock sector about meat imports, the committee decided to lower the interest rate on emergency loans from the current 3 percent to 1.8 percent to help struggling livestock farmers.
The interest rate for modernizing livestock facilities will also be cut to 2 percent from the current 3 percent.
Compensation measures also include a government plan to slash electricity prices by 20 percent for slaughterhouses by 2024.
The passage of the Seoul-Canberra free trade pact comes just a day before President Park Geun-hye is scheduled to visit Australia today and three days after the Seoul government announced the signing of another free trade agreement with Beijing, the world’s second-largest economy.
The passage of the agreement through the parliamentary committee yesterday came seven months after Seoul and Canberra formally signed the treaty on April 8 this year in a ceremony witnessed by President Park and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in Seoul.
The Australian parliament passed the free trade agreement with Asia’s fourth-largest economy on Oct. 1.
If the FTA with Australia is ratified by the end of this year, Korea will see the first phase of tariff reductions on its exports to Australia at the moment of ratification and see another round of tariff cuts on Jan. 1, which the government has claimed will give domestic businesses a boost by making their exports cheaper.
The committee’s move yesterday came after the government estimated that it could lose up to $460 million in trade if an FTA between Japan and Australia takes effect before Korea’s. The upper house of Japan’s Diet approved the pact last Friday.
Japan is in talks with Canada to sign another free trade deal.
Korea and Canada signed a free trade pact in September and a bill for its ratification was submitted to the Assembly last month.
It is expected that parliamentary members will pass the ratification of the two FTAs without much difficulty by Dec. 2 at the latest, when the parliament is required by law to pass the government’s budget plan for the next year.
If approved by lawmakers as expected, Korea will have 11 free trade agreements in effect.
BY KANG JIN-KYU [firstname.lastname@example.org]