South Korea approves free trade agreement with US despite deep divisions
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.
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There appeared to be little doubt the newly-approved Korean-US FTA would remain at the core of opposition protests against the government, along with complaints about the US-Korea alliance under which 28,500 US troops remain in the country.Skip to next paragraph
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“Until the real – and the perceived – disadvantaged workers and small business owners are convinced that free trade will serve them best in the long term,” says economic consultant Tom Coyner in Seoul, “we may anticipate populist opposition.”
Tear gas and scuffles in parliament
The bitterness surfaced in a ruckus broadcast by South Korean TV networks. As the assembly was convening without prior notice, one opposition member set off a tear-gas grenade and staff members battled security guards to get into the assembly and physically prevent the vote.
Sohn Hak-kyu, leader of the Democratic Party which has 87 assembly seats, denounced the vote as “a coup by the government.” He apologized for failing to block the vote and declared the opening of a campaign to invalidate it. At the same time, his party and minor leftist parties vowed to boycott all assembly sessions.
The agreement appears certain, however, to bring about a huge increase in bilateral trade, which came to $88 billion last year with a balance of $10 billion in Korea's favor.
“Ultimate implementation of the KORUS FTA is certain to be an overall economic and social good for both the US and South Korea,” says Mr. Coyner, reflecting the widely held view of the American Chamber of Commerce and South Korean business groups. “Opening up protected markets is an ultimate necessity.”
Lee on Wednesday reiterated calls for North Korea to apologize for the attack, which the North said was precipitated by South Korean marines on the island firing cannon. South Korean forces staged an exercise in the area, firing weapons as helicopters flew over waters around the island, just a few miles from North Korea’s southwestern coast.
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