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Amid Scuffles and Shouts, South Korea-US Trade Deal Clears Hurdle

A trade liberalization deal between South Korea and the United States has come a step closer to fruition. South Korean lawmakers passed the measure through a committee, over the shouts and scuffles of those opposing it.

South Korean parliamentary opponents of a major free-trade deal with the United States got physical in a committee hearing room, but failed to prevent the deal from advancing toward ratification.

Members of a far-left minority party surrounded trade committee Chairman Park Jin's podium and tried to physically block a vote to advance the trade deal to a full ratification vote. As opponents tried to take away his microphone and gavel, Chairman Park declared the committee's approval of the free-trade deal.

The trade deal was signed in June of 2007. Economists say it would strongly boost the already robust trade relationship between the two countries by making it easier to buy and sell each others' products.

But the deal is extremely controversial in South Korea, and the vote was not the first time the debate has gotten emotional or physical. Lawmakers smashed open doors and staged a weeks-long sit-in to prevent votes related to the deal earlier this year.

Opponents say the deal with make it easy for the far larger U.S. economy to overwhelm entire sectors of the South Korean economy, especially in the culturally sensitive agriculture sector. South Korean farmers have held occasionally violent demonstrations over the years, and several farmers have committed suicide to protest the agreement.

The deal has opponents in the United States as well, especially among Democratic Party allies of President Barack Obama. They say South Korea has not done enough to open up key markets, especially in automobiles.

Both countries need to ratify the deal for it to take effect. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and President Obama are expected to discuss the deal during a summit in June.