Amid a surprisingly chaotic scene that puts the U.S. Congress’ bickering to shame, South Korea’s parliament voted overwhelmingly to approve a U.S.-South Korean free trade agreement (FTA) that has been in the works for some five years.
Though a significant portion of the voter base is against the measure in fear of job losses or economic hits, South Korea’s ruling party called a hasty, surprise Wednesday vote on the FTA, one started during the Bush Administration and signed by President Barack Obama about one month ago. One opposing politician even let off some form of tear gas or pepper spray in parliament’s chambers, reports indicate. The deal’s value is estimated at nearly $90 billion.
After years of languishing and political one-upmanship on both sides of the political aisle, the pact was among three Free Trade Agreement (FTAs) passed by Congress in October. Approval of the FTAs with South Korea, Panama and Colombia has long been seen as important to boost business for U.S.-based companies feeling the pinch of lower domestic demand. The FTAs, in theory, will significantly expand U.S. exports in those markets, help small businesses and lower tariffs on American goods.
Getting the measure through though saw U.S. supporters and opponents alike coming from both political parties as the idea of job protectionism divided lawmakers more on regional lines than the usual partisan ones. In South Korea, the divisions seemed to come from a two groups: big business versus the middle class and working poor. Some paint the deal as more beneficial to the United States and more of a move for the sake of appearances and posturing on the part of Seoul.
The Korean vote was seen as the last significant hurdle to implementation of the FTA, widely regarded as the most significant of the three new U.S. pacts.
Brian Shappell, NACM staff writer