China FTA may get Monday vote

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China FTA may get Monday vote

As time runs out to gain parliamentary approval for the Korea-China Free Trade Agreement (FTA) to take effect this year, the ruling and opposition parties came to an agreement on Friday to hold a plenary session of the National Assembly for a vote on ratification of the bilateral trade pact on Monday.

The ruling Saenuri Party and main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) were unable to narrow differences on Thursday in a discussion that continued late into the night.

Thus, Saenuri floor leader Won Yoo-chul and NPAD floor leader Lee Jong-kul, chief policymakers and Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan met Friday morning over breakfast at The Palace Hotel Seoul to iron out remaining issues in order for parliamentary ratification of the trade pact with China.

The ruling party has pressed to have the FTA take effect this year. The NPAD has emphasized the government has to set up protection measures before ratification for industries that are expected to be hit hard by the deal, such as agriculture.

A plenary session of the National Assembly was initially scheduled to vote on Thursday, but it was canceled after the two sides failed to agree on a compensation package for farmers and fishermen. Another session was scheduled for Friday, but that was also delayed.

Instead, the two sides agreed to schedule a National Assembly plenary session for Monday to vote on the Korea-China trade pact, along with a foreign affairs committee meeting.

Despite an indication that the parties had come to an agreement to ratify the agreement after the Friday morning meeting, a couple of hours later, the opposition floor leader denied it.

At a press briefing Friday afternoon, NPAD floor leader Lee Jong-kul said, “Only the schedule has been agreed upon, and whether the agreement will be ratified then is only guesswork.

“The Saenuri Party linked the Korea-China FTA with the passing of the budget bill, playing hostage politics and refusing discussions,” he continued. “That is blackmail.”

The two sides have not agreed on a budget for free day care programs, among other issues.

The NPAD is focused on a national budget for free day care for 3- to 5-year-olds and an increase in support for creating jobs for youth.

Both sides indicated that they have narrowed their differences on the FTA considerably. While there is still the task of working out a profit-sharing scheme for automakers who will benefit and farmers and fishermen who will suffer, other demands by the NPAD have been agreed upon.

It is expected that the two sides will continue to hold closed-door talks over the weekend to settle remaining issues.

At an economic conference on Friday at the Seoul government complex, Finance Minister Choi emphasized, “The ratification of the Korea-China FTA and the other free trade agreements that are being mulled in the National Assembly are very urgent.”

Korea has FTAs with Vietnam and New Zealand that have yet to be ratified.

President Park Geun-hye, who has canceled appointments because she is suffering from fatigue and a cold, also said on Friday, “The Korea-China FTA must be passed by Nov. 30,” according to a Blue House official.

“It is regrettable that the National Assembly plenary session was canceled,” Blue House spokesman Jeong Yeon-guk said, urging the ratification of the motion on Monday.

Park will encounter Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday in Paris during the opening ceremony of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or the COP21.

The Korea-China FTA, expected to 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 deal in June after three years of negotiations. It will enter into force once the legislatures of both countries approve it. The regular session of the 19th National Assembly will end on Dec. 9.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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