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Parliamentary panel discusses EU FTA

By 김소현

Published : April 19, 2011 - 18:58

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A parliamentary panel on Tuesday debated South Korea’s free trade agreement with the European Union, which was unexpectedly voted down by a subcommittee Friday, stymieing Seoul’s move to expand trade with the world’s biggest economic bloc.

Ruling and opposition parties received reports from vice ministers of agriculture, knowledge and economy on the government’s plans to minimize the damage to local industries and livestock farms.

As the Seoul government appears reluctant to exempt livestock farms from capital gains taxes, lawmakers discussed whether to provide subsidies to livestock farm owners who choose to shift to other businesses on the condition that they do not resume stockbreeding.

The European Parliament ratified the FTA by an overwhelming majority in February, leaving the Seoul government impatient to have the deal take effect by July 1 as previously agreed.

The FTA calls for an elimination of 98 percent of import duties and other trade barriers in manufactured goods and agricultural products between the two sides within the next five years, a change opposition parties say would require sufficient protection for the local hog and dairy industries.

The controversial bill was rejected by the six-person subpanel under the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee Friday as the ruling party failed to secure the four votes necessary for majority approval. Among six legislators who took part in the vote, three approved of the bill, two rejected and one cast a blank ballot.

Rep. Jungwook Hong of the ruling Grand National Party told reporters shortly after withdrawing from the vote that he abstained to express his opposition to the GNP’s move to railroad the bill. Hong and a group of other assemblymen had vowed earlier not to take part in the majority party’s attempts to push through bills without sufficient discussions.

The GNP, which controls 171 seats in the 298-member unicameral legislature, had said it may approve the bill unilaterally, accusing rival parties of making “blind objections.”

Opposition parties, led by the largest Democratic Party, have been urging the government to first present sufficient measures to minimize the damage the influx of competitive European dairy products will do to the domestic livestock industry. They also claim more time is needed to thoroughly go over the deal for any mistranslation.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)