The government and ruling Grand National Party (GNP) agreed Friday to work together to pass the long-delayed free trade pact with the United States later this month and to prepare strong safeguards for local industry before endorsing the deal, party officials said.
The GNP and the government have been stepping up efforts to get the deal passed by parliament after the U.S. Congress gave it final approval during President Lee Myung-bak's state visit to Washington last week. Opposition parties are against the agreement, however, claiming it favors the U.S.
Senior Cabinet members and GNP legislators gathered at the National Assembly to discuss support measures for local industries and agreed to increase the government subsidies for agriculture and fishery industries that could be affected by cheap imported goods, GNP spokesman Kim Ki-hyun said.
Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik stressed the deal's benefits for South Korea's economy and called for cooperation between the legislature and the government to reach an agreement to approve the pact.
"The (FTA) will reinforce the Korea-U.S. alliance to set a foundation for strong security and also make the world's biggest market our economic territory," Kim said. "The government has prepared countermeasures to protect the agriculture industry and to strengthen competitiveness. We will make the utmost effort to make them more effective."
Chief trade negotiator Kim Jong-hoon said a majority of South Koreans favor the deal that would boost local economy and create more jobs.
"As far as I know, all public surveys showed there were more proponents for the South Korea-U.S. FTA than opponents," Trade Minister Kim said, asking for bipartisan compromise so the pact can be ratified this month and go into effect in January.
"The U.S. has completed all preparations for the pact to go into effect," Kim said. "I think the time has come for us to wrap up the (approval process) that has lasted four and a half years."