Evan Ramstad, Wall Street Journal
The Korean-U.S. free trade agreement started with brawls and protests in the streets in 2006. And it now appears certain it will end with brawls and protests in the National Assembly next week.
The final showdown is near, as lawmakers from both the ruling Grand National Party and opposition Democratic Party maneuvered for tactical advantage on Thursday and Friday.
The GNP would like to avoid the PR nightmare of barricaded doors and shouting and shoulder-shoving (in some previous fisticuff spectacles, the sides made rules not to raise hands above their waist), but the words coming from the DP and other opposition parties signal they are sure to occur. It has seemed this way for months.
Though South Korea’s FTA with the U.S. is not substantively different than the one with the European Union that took effect earlier this year, for opposition politicians, there is broader symbolism involved in fighting it.
On Thursday, opposition parties led by the DP asked for the trade ministry to provide a list of translation errors that were made earlier this year in the Korean version of the pact. They also asked for a list of South Korean laws that will need to change to comply with the pact and cost estimates of changes in tariff rates.
Meanwhile, President Lee Myung-bak, who favors the FTA, asked to speak to the Assembly to rally support from both lawmakers and the public for the deal. But opposition parties refused. Instead, he sent each lawmaker a letter explaining why he likes it and his willingness to accept legislation that provides assistance to businesses and individuals whose livelihood is hurt by the trade pact.
Just as sure as there’s a fight ahead, however, is this: the FTA will pass.
The GNP and government have been trying to remind the public that the previous Democratic-led administration of President Roh Moo-hyun initiated the trade talks and reached the initial deal with the U.S.
The Finance Ministry posted a short video on YouTube with that message, even depicting Mr. Roh talking about the pact. The Roh Foundation, a charitable trust that looks after his affairs after his death in 2009, protested the depiction and said that the final deal (which received minor amendments by both countries last year) wasn’t the one that he agreed upon.
A finance ministry spokesman in response said that the video was intended to clear up the “misperception” that the FTA was started by the Lee government. “The Korea-U.S. FTA started under the previous government and was negotiated between the two countries,” the spokesman said. “That was the message the video clip is delivering.”
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