S.Korea MPs try to end impasse on U.S. trade deal
Reuters - 1 hour 9 minutes ago
By Jon Herskovitz
SEOUL, Jan 2 - Leading South Korean MPs tried on Friday to end an opposition protest that has paralysed parliament for weeks, delaying votes on a trade deal with the United States and reforms aimed at lifting Asia fourth largest economy.
The ruling Grand National Party has been thwarted in its attempt to push through the trade deal, sweeping tax cuts and plans to privatise state-run firms by opposition lawmakers who have occupied the main parliament chamber, committee rooms and the speaker's chair to physically block voting.
Leaders from GNP, which holds a solid majority in parliament, and the opposition Democratic Party tried to hammer out a compromise. The GNP has floated delaying the vote on the trade deal in return for quick passage of essential reforms.
The GNP has outlined 85 bills it wants to pass that also include measures to ease bank ownership, debt-relief for low income households and revamping the broadcast industry.
President Lee Myung-bak, who is from the GNP, called on MPs to move on the reform agenda in order help the export-driven economy steer through the global financial crisis.
"If they do, we will be able to put further spurs to ongoing efforts to revitalise the economy and create jobs, which is the hope of all Koreans," Lee said in a New Year's message.
"EVERYBODY A LOSER"
South Korean exports and imports shrank more than expected in December as the global economic crisis shredded demand at home and abroad. The government said exporters faced their toughest year since 2001. [ID:nL179089]
"At the first glance everybody seems to be coming out as a loser because the public is just getting fed up," said Choi Han-soo, a political science professor at Konkuk University.
But the more the parties dig in their heels, the more support they receive from their political bases, which could make the struggle protracted, he said.
South Korea's parliament ground to a halt after opposition MPs swinging sledgehammers on Dec. 18 tried to force their way into a committee meeting room to halt the introduction of the bill to ratify the trade deal with the United States.
South Korea and the United States struck the trade deal in 2007 that studies said would boost their $78 billion a year in two-way trade by about $20 billion. The pact has not been approved by legislatures in either country.
The dynamics in Washington will change this month when President-elect Barack Obama, who has said parts of the deal, such as auto trade need to be renegotiated, takes office and what is seen as a more protectionist Congress is seated.
South Korean analysts said it may take six months or more for Congress to take up the FTA, the largest bilateral trade deal the United States has struck in about 15 years. And there is more pressure to revise the auto trade section due to the precarious financial position of the Big Three U.S. carmakers. (Additional reporting by Kim Junghyun; Editing by Bill Tarrant)
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