BBC World Service

South Korea agrees to free trade deal

Steve Chiotakis Nov 22, 2011

Steve Chiotakis: South Korea has passed a new free trade deal with the United States, making the agreement official one month after the U.S. Congress ratified the deal. But in South Korea, the deal didn’t pass smoothly.

The BBC’s Lucy Williamson is with us now from Seoul. Hey Lucy.

Lucy Williamson: Hi.

Chiotakis: I know the U.S. already passed the deal. What does South Korea’s decision mean?

Williamson: It depends very much who you talk to. It hasn’t been uniformly popular. On the face of it, it’s going to remove tariffs on almost all products between the two countries in about three years. Services are going to be opened up as well, and that’s quite controversial here — particularly with groups like farmers who feel they’re going to lose out, and small businesses as well.

Chiotakis: Was the trade deal an easy sell in South Korea?

Williamson: Not really. The president’s been very vocal in saying — in face both presidents have said that they believe it’s a good thing: it’s going to create jobs, it’s going to create income. President Lee Myung-bak here in South Korea has also said that he thinks it’s politically very important to confirm the strategic relationship between the two countries.

But there’s been really fierce opposition here in parliament. We saw scuffles here today — we even saw tear gas being released in the parliamentary chamber today. Really, very fierce opposition. Part of that is just down to the political atmosphere here — it’s quite frenetic at the moment, there’s lots of pressure on the politicians here going into the elections next year, that’s part of it. But it also goes down to some very crucial issues like the agriculture industry here.

Chiotakis: The BBC’s Lucy Williamson in Seoul. Lucy, thank you.

Williamson: You’re welcome.

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