Google News / AFP
August 26, 2009

SEOUL — South Korea’s parliament will swiftly ratify a free trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union, its Speaker Kim Hyong-O said Wednesday.

"I want the South Korea-EU FTA to be ratified at the earliest possible date," he told journalists.

"When the government calls for the ratification of the deal, the National Assembly will pass it much faster and with much less controversy than it has in the case of the FTA with the United States," he said.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency until December 31, said in July the European side could finalise the pact before the end of the year.

EU member states have given broad backing to the agreement but are still to fully endorse it, diplomats in Brussels said last month.

The two sides in March reached a deal on most points but follow-up talks failed to settle two outstanding issues — duty drawback and rules of origin.

South Korea wants permission to refund import tariffs to manufacturers that use imported materials to make products for export. Brussels says this would give them an unfair advantage.

On rules of origin, South Korea wants items made at a Seoul-funded industrial complex in North Korea to be treated as South Korean goods.

Also, since South Korean manufacturers import many parts from China and elsewhere, the two sides are trying to agree what percentage of a finished item must be locally made.

The US and South Korea signed a trade pact in June 2007 but the legislatures of both countries must ratify it.

Opposition lawmakers in April scuffled with ruling party members in a vain attempt to stop a parliamentary committee approving the bill. They say it is premature to act until the US side appears better disposed towards it.

The full legislature must now ratify it.

"Once the US sends us a positive sign on the FTA, we will be able to ratify the FTA without delay," Kim said.

President Barack Obama said in June he was "committed" to moving ahead with the deal but declined to set a timeframe.

While running for the presidency last year he was critical of the pact, saying South Korea should give greater access to US cars.