Sat, Nov 05, 2011 - Page 5 News List

South Korean parliament frozen over FTA

BONE OF CONTENTION:Critics say a clause allowing disputes between investors and the state to be settled by a third party undermines the country’s independence

AFP, SEOUL

Confrontation at South Korea’s parliament over a free-trade agreement (FTA) with the US showed no sign of easing yesterday, as some opposition lawmakers took to the streets while others continued sit-ins.

Police had fired water cannons on Thursday to disperse about 2,300 demonstrators who tried to force their way into parliament in protest against the pact.

The ruling Grand National Party (GNP) is seeking quick ratification of the long-delayed agreement after the deal sailed through the US Congress last month.

The GNP has a solid majority, but is reluctant to ram the bill through and provoke possible physical clashes for fear of a voter backlash before next year’s general and presidential elections.

Opposition lawmakers are blocking GNP attempts to approve the deal in parliament’s trade committee, occupying the main chamber of the committee on and off from Monday. The occupation continued yesterday.

When passed by the committee, it must go to the full house for approval.

About 20 lawmakers, led by chairman Sohn Hak-kyu of the main opposition Democratic Party, distributed leaflets to passers-by at a subway station near parliament yesterday, wearing sashes inscribed with slogans.

“As more people became aware of the drawbacks of the free-trade agreement, there are mounting voices against the deal,” Sohn told journalists. “There is no reason for the government to be in a hurry to have it ratified.”

The main point of contention is the “investor-state dispute” settlement system that allows disputes between investors and the state to be settled under the mediation of a third party.

Opposition parties say the system could infringe on the country’s legal independence. The government says such a system is a global standard and is part of earlier South Korean trade pacts.

The GNP accuses the Democratic Party of hypocrisy for trying to block a deal negotiated when it was in power.

The opposition says the pact was skewed in favor of the US when changes were made last year to address complaints from US automakers.

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