Free trade, free speech

S. Korea, U.S. defy protests and ac­ti­vate pact

The Washington Times Daily - - Business - BY HYUNG-JIN KIM

SEOUL | South Korea is im­ple­ment­ing its long-stalled free-trade deal with the United States about five years af­ter the two coun­tries struck the ac­cord aimed at slash­ing tar­iffs and other trade bar­ri­ers.

The deal, which trig­gered heated de­bate in both coun­tries, faces lin­ger­ing re­sis­tance in South Korea with the main lib­eral op­po­si­tion party pledg­ing to seek a rene­go­ti­a­tion if it wins De­cem­ber’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Ac­tivists also say they will con­tinue to rally for the deal’s nul­li­fi­ca­tion. The pact came into force at mid­night Wed­nes­day.

Pro­po­nents say it will boost trade and the half-cen­tury al­liance be­tween the U.S. and South Korea, but crit­ics say it fa­vors the U.S. over South Korean work­ers.

The deal would give South Korean com­pa­nies im­proved ac­cess to U.S. mar­kets, widen con­sumers’ choice of prod­ucts and cre­ate 350,000 jobs over the next 10 years, the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs and Trade said in a state­ment.

Pres­i­dent Obama and his South Korean coun­ter­part, Lee Myung­bak, will talk by tele­phone Thurs­day to mark the pact’s im­ple­men­ta­tion and to dis­cuss other is­sues in­clud­ing North Korea’s nu­clear pro­gram, Mr. Lee’s of­fice said.

The main op­po­si­tion Demo­cratic United Party warned that the deal’s im­ple­men­ta­tion would trig­ger a public back­lash against the South Korean gov­ern­ment. “We can­not tol­er­ate our sovereignty and na­tional in­ter­ests be­ing in­fringed due to an un­fair pact,” the party said in a state­ment.

At a can­dle­light rally Wed­nes­day at a Seoul plaza, hun­dreds of ac­tivists chanted “Scrap the FTA” and held plac­ards call­ing for Mr. Lee’s res­ig­na­tion. Po­lice said the protest was peace­ful. Or­ga­niz­ers said they plan sim­i­lar ral­lies in the com­ing days.

Ear­lier Wed­nes­day, about 200 pro-u.s. ac­tivists sup­port­ing the deal ral­lied near the U.S. Em­bassy in Seoul, where they waved South Korean and U.S. na­tional flags.

The deal, which would be Amer­ica’s big­gest free-trade agree­ment since the 1994 North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment with Canada and Mex­ico, was ini­tially signed in 2007. But its im­ple­men­ta­tion was de­layed be­cause of changes in gov­ern­ments in both coun­tries, the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis and U.S. wor­ries over an im­bal­ance in auto trade. South Korea even­tu­ally com­pro­mised and ad­dressed U.S. wor­ries on cars.

In Novem­ber, South Korea’s rul­ing party pushed the trade deal through par­lia­ment, touch­ing off scuf­fles with lib­eral op­po­si­tion mem­bers. One en­raged op­po­si­tion law­maker doused rul­ing-party law­mak­ers with tear gas.

South Korea and the U.S. are key se­cu­rity al­lies in Asia, tak­ing part in multination dis­ar­ma­ment talks on North Korea’s nu­clear weapons pro­gram. About 28,500 U.S. troops are sta­tioned in South Korea in what Seoul and Washington call de­ter­rence against po­ten­tial North Korean provo­ca­tion.

Two-way trade be­tween South Korea and the United States to­taled about $100 bil­lion last year, up from $90 bil­lion a year ear­lier, ac­cord­ing to Seoul’s Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs and Trade.

Nuns were among the pro­test­ers at a South Korean rally against the trade pact, which went into ef­fect at mid­night Wed­nes­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.