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S. Korea Signs Trade Deal with Chile Amid Protests - 2004-02-16

South Korea approved a trade pact with Chile Monday, marking Seoul's first-ever bilateral trade agreement. South Korea's parliament endorsed a free trade pact with Chile on Monday, one year after it was signed. It was the lawmakers' fourth attempt to vote on the trade bill; controversy and street protests had derailed the previous attempts.

On Monday, thousands of farmers demonstrated in Seoul, with hundreds of them hurling rocks at police outside of parliament.

The pact, which passed 162 votes to 71, excludes rice and meat, the most sensitive products in South Korea's politically powerful agricultural sector, but it includes fruit and other farm products. South Korea's farmers fear that Chile's inexpensive farm produce could put them out of business.

The South Korean Commerce Ministry, however, praised the move, saying it would boost the country's exports of cars, mobile phones and other industrial goods by more than $200 million a year.

The trade pact, which Chile passed last month, comes ahead of a general election in South Korea on April 15. Farmers pledged Monday to vote against legislators who supported the bill.

Lawmakers had tried to calm the protests last year by passing a $100 billion assistance package for the agricultural sector, but farmers say it is insufficient.

Countries around the world are trying to make more one-on-one trade deals since global trade talks collapsed in September at the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Mexico. There are hopes that another round of talks will soon begin, so governments are eager to reduce trade barriers before then.

South Korea now hopes to forge trade deals with Japan and Singapore.