Ratification process for Korea-China FTA begins

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Ratification process for Korea-China FTA begins

The ruling party Monday took the first step towards approving Korea’s free trade agreement with China by introducing a motion for its ratification to a key committee, an apparent political gift for President Park Geun-hye ahead of her trip to Beijing this week.

The National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee opened a session Monday afternoon based on the ruling Saenuri Party’s request. At the meeting, the ruling party introduced five motions to ratify a series of trade pacts, including the Korea-China Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) boycotted the meeting because it wants to form a special committee to address the FTAs.

The Korea-China FTA, expected to eventually eliminate tariffs on about 90 percent of the goods traded between the two countries, was finalized in November 2014. China and Korea officially signed the landmark deal in June. It will enter into force later this year once legislatures of both countries approve it.

Other motions tabled at the committee meeting on Monday were concerning ratification of the investment and service trade agreements between Korea and Turkey and motions to ratify FTAs with Vietnam and New Zealand. The motions regarding the agreements with Turkey were submitted to the National Assembly on April 30, while the ratification bills for the pacts with Vietnam and New Zealand were submitted on June 4. The ratification motion for the Korea-China FTA was submitted on June 5.

Earlier last week, the Saenuri Party made a similar attempt to introduce the ratification motions to the Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee but failed. Opposition lawmakers on the committee argued that a special committee should be formed in association with the Committee on Trade, Industry and Energy to better examine the pacts.

Before the foreign affairs committee started its session, Rep. Shim Jae-kwon of the NPAD gave a brief statement to express the opposition party’s displeasure.

“I came here to clearly express our party’s stance,” he said. “We do not disagree with the Korea-China FTA, but we believe a special committee needs to be created, and concerned standing committees must participate in how to make up for the shortcomings of the Korea-China FTA.”

He said the foreign affairs committee was only in charge of ratification protocols, while the Committee on Trade, Industry and Energy was better informed about the actual details of the deal with China. Since the FTA involves a significant part of Korea’s economy, the NPAD wants it to be deliberated by a special committee, he said.

With no NPAD members present, the five motions, including the bill to ratify the Korea-China FTA, were tabled, and government officials, including Trade Minister Yoon Sang-jick, briefed lawmakers.

Saenuri Rep. Na Kyung-won, chairwoman of the committee, then closed the session without a vote.

“Unfortunately, all lawmakers from the opposition parties were no-shows,” Na said. “Although FTAs, including the Korea-China FTA, are urgent matters, they have a serious impact on our society and economy, so I will reconvene a meeting in the near future to listen to the opposition lawmakers’ opinions and reflect on them during the deliberations and voting.”

The Blue House stressed Monday the importance of ratifying the Korea-China FTA as soon as possible and noted that it will be one of the main issues Park will discuss with top Chinese leaders.

According to Joo Chul-ki, senior secretary for foreign and security affairs, Park will meet Chinese Premier Li Keqiang tomorrow afternoon and discuss major economic issues between the two countries.

“The two leaders will consult comprehensively on how to maximize mutual economic benefits for the two countries, including the utilization of the Korea-China FTA, in this uncertain global economic climate,” Joo said. “They will also talk about which direction the two countries’ economic cooperation should lead to.”

Ahn Chong-bum, a top presidential economic policy aide, said China is expected to ratify the trade pact this month, as it is being reviewed by its State Council.

“Because there is more for us to gain from this agreement, ratifying it as soon as possible is absolutely crucial,” Ahn said. “Every day we wait, we face about 4 billion won ($3 million) in losses in our exports.”

According to Ahn, tariffs on 958 items will be lifted immediately after the Korea-China FTA takes effect this year. In 2012, Korea exported more than $87 billion worth of goods to China on those categories, he said.

“The first lifting of the tariffs takes place on the day it takes effect,” he said. “The next lifting takes place on Jan. 1 of the subsequent year. The earlier we ratify it, the faster it will take effect, and the more we will gain from it.” If the FTA with China fails to take effect this year, Korea will lose an opportunity to enjoy an increase of $13.5 billion in export, he said. “And if the ratification is delayed by a day, we will roughly see about 4 billion won in losses.” 

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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