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South Korea Releases 1,200-Page Trade Deal With United States

  • Kurt Achin

South Korea's government has released the full text of a trade liberalization deal with the United States. Supporters and opponents of the controversial agreement are now searching the 1,200-page document for ammunition in a mounting political battle over whether the deal should be ratified. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo told business leaders in Seoul Friday the full text of the South Korea - U.S. Free Trade Agreement is now open for discussion.

"So we are subject to any comments - any support, or any criticism that our people, our academia, and members of our National Assembly can put forward," he said.

South Korean and U.S. officials say the deal will reinvigorate the two countries' already robust $70 billion a year trade relationship, generating high paying jobs and consumer benefits across the board.

However, the deal faces intense and emotional opposition from many South Koreans, who fear the much larger U.S. economy will crush entire sectors of South Korean production. Many South Koreans say Friday's release of the deal's details comes far too late. They say the government failed to consult the public adequately during 10 months of intense negotiation before the deal announcement in early April.

Some critics say the negotiating process was rushed through to accommodate a U.S. political deadline in June, after which any deal would face a higher level of scrutiny from Congress.

The agreement stipulates that President Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun must sign it by the end of June. Prime Minister Han says the legislative debate will begin soon after that.

"We will submit to the National Assembly for the ratification process as soon as possible - so, maybe it will take one month after the signing," he said.

Exactly when the legislatures in the two countries will each bring the deal to a ratification vote remains a matter of speculation. However, some experts say it is possible there will be a vote before President Roh's term ends in January.

Negotiators say the deal may also be slightly adjusted to reflect policies of the new Democratic Party majority in the U.S. Congress. Democratic lawmakers are seeking stronger environmental and labor protections in trade agreements.