South Korea's National Assembly gave the final nod Tuesday to a
controversial US free trade agreement that is expected to boost
bilateral trade of $88 billion last year.
South Korea opened a new era today of trade with the United
States - and protest by liberals and leftists - with approval of a
controversial Korea-US Free Trade Agreement by a bitterly divided
The deep disagreements between ruling conservatives and firebrand
foes of the government were evident in the contrasting responses of
South Korea' s President Lee Myung-bak and the leader of the main
opposition party after the conservatives suddenly forced approval of
the deal in Tuesday's surprise vote.
President Lee hailed the agreement as a chance for "moving one
step ahead" of competitors. "If we seize this opportunity and unite
our strength," he said, South Korea can "make a leap" over other
countries despite the global economic crisis.
Opposition political leaders, looking ahead to National Assembly
elections in April and the election of a new president in December
2012, vowed to fight to kill the agreement, which takes effect on
Jan. 1. The conservative Grand National Party, which has 169 of the
assembly's 299 seats, called a snap vote on the FTA after its foes
had blocked the vote and rejected President Lee's personal appeal in
a meeting at the assembly.
The showdown in the assembly dramatized deep fissures in South
Korean society in an atmosphere in which the wealthy chaebol, or
conglomerates, that control the economy have been steadily growing,
while millions of people complain of worsening economic realities,
including rising unemployment among young people.
The vote also had implications for the US-Korean military
alliance since Lee and President Obama had appeared to get along
extremely well in Lee's carefully orchestrated visit to the US last
month. Just before he got to Washington the agreement won easy
approval in Congress, overcoming earlier misgivings about the
potential impact of widening US markets to more South Korean motor
vehicles and other products.
Rising threat from US farm imports?
Foes of the agreement in South Korea focused their campaign
against it on a provision for sending investor-state disputes to an
international arbitration body that they claim favors the United
States. South Korean farmers also are incensed by what they see as a
rising threat from US farm imports even though the deal does not
cover the import of rice, the central staple of the South Korean
diet, sold at artificially high prices. …