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South Korean Lawmakers Approve Korea-US Trade Deal

National Assembly Vice Speaker Chung Eui-hwa, second from left top, wearing glasses, declares the passage of a bill on ratification of a South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement as opposition lawmakers try to stop it at the National Assembly in Seoul, South

South Korean lawmakers have ratified a free trade deal with the United States. The bill had been held up by opposition lawmakers but passed after the ruling party called a surprise session in the National Assembly. Observers now warn of political consequences for President Lee Myung-bak's party.

During a surprise session on Tuesday in South Korea’s National Assembly, members of the ruling party called for a vote on the KORUS-FTA. Only a handful of opposition lawmakers were present at the time. The trade pact passed with a clear majority.

The KORUS FTA had been awaiting ratification since 2007 and was partially re-negotiated last year. In October, the U.S. Congress passed the bill, but South Korea’s opposition parties refused to back the deal and activist groups held dozens of protests against it.

Nam Hee-sob is a committee chairman at the Korean Alliance Against the KORUS FTA. He says he is ashamed how the ruling party rammed the bill through.

Nam says he did not expect the ruling lawmakers to pass the trade deal in such an undemocratic way. He says President Lee Myung-bak had offered to renegotiate parts of the bill and that it was still on the table when his party passed it without any agreement with the opposition.

Nam says he also does not agree with the way some opponents tried to block the vote on the bill. One member of the Democratic Party detonated a tear gas canister, which temporarily cleared the National Assembly floor.

The KORUS FTA is expected to come into effect in January and boost bilateral trade by tens of billions of dollars.

But even though the deal has been ratified, Nam says the fight is not over yet.

He says his group will campaign against every lawmaker from the ruling party who voted for the FTA in next April’s parliamentary elections.

And Nam says the same goes for South Korea’s 2012 presidentialeElection. Nam says he will support a candidate that, once elected, will overturn the KORUS FTA.