After more than five years the free trade agreement that was negotiated under previous Presidents Roh Moo-hyun of South Korea and George W. Bush of the U.S. finally has reached final approval. The South Korean Parliament approved the FTA in a surprise session. The ruling Grand National Party caught the opposition off guard with the call to ratify the agreement. Strong opposition to the free trade agreement with the U.S. had vowed to block entrance to Parliament for the vote, but the session was convened after most of the ruling party was already inside.
The agreement was passed on an 151-7 vote, however the vote was not without incident as police cleared the hall briefly after a member of Democratic Labor Party, Kim Sun-dong set off tear gas in building. Kim was removed by police and the vote was taken.
The chairman of the foreign affairs committee in charge of legislation, Nam Kyung-pil, said that it was a pitiful spectacle and apologized to the country.
"I struggled to come to a compromise and to ratify the FTA together, and I did my best to show a mature, developed Parliament, but failed," Mr. Nam said. "So I feel deeply sorry to the people."
The deal that was ratified with the U.S. is very similar to a deal brokered with the European Union earlier this year, but it did not receive the attention or the opposition that the deal with the United States garnered. Despite public opinion polls showing broad support for the deal, Korean farmers and labor unions led protests against ratification of the FTA.
Bigger changes are expected from the FTA for South Korea than for the U.S. The South Korean trade surplus is expected to continue but will likely become smaller due to the purchase of U.S. agricultural products.
The U.S. Meat Export Federation issued a release praising the ratification. USMEF Chair Danita Rodibaugh called the move true globalization – the highest level of exchange that countries can experience is when consumers can trade goods and services around the world in a borderless economy.
"The value of U.S. red meat exports for American producers has never been higher than it is right now," Rodibaugh said. "Both beef and pork exports are projected to hit record highs, exceeding $5 billion in value this year. And the per-head value of those exports also is at a high, topping $202 per head for beef and $54 for pork. The invigoration of our trading relationship with South Korea will only add more value to that trade that will benefit the U.S. agricultural sector."