EU-Korea free trade pact lost in translation

Korea Times | 03-08-2011

EU-Korea free trade pact lost in translation

Discrepancies between Korean, English versions cause uproar

By Kim Tae-gyu

When the European Parliament approved the free trade agreement (FTA) with South Korea midway through February, the pact looked set for smooth sailing.

Just ahead of the parliamentary reviews here, however, things abruptly changed because of discrepancies located in the Korean- and the English-language versions of the accord.

The original Korean-language text signed last October was found to have numerous translation errors of late. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) corrected them to present the ratification motion to the National Assembly last week.

Yet, domestic experts contend that there are additional mistakes, some of which they say might be intentional.

Particularly under debate is content added to the Korean-language version, which is not present in the English-language one.

Regarding requirements of architect license holders, the English text on construction and design services in Annex 7-A-4 says ``Foreign architects licensed under their home country’s law may acquire a Korean architect license by passing a simplified examination, which covers only two of the regular test’s six subjects.”

The two are Architectural Law and Regulations as well as Architectural Design.

By contrast, the Korean text obliges qualifications of five years of on-site experiences to receive the certificates in line with domestic regulations.

``If the English-language version becomes a benchmark, foreign architects would be able to obtain Korean licenses easier than Korean applicants,’’ said Song Ki-ho, a lawyer who first raised the mistranslation issue. He is an expert in the trade pacts.

In response, MOFAT argued that the Korean-language clauses on the five-years of experience are clarification and any European architects will have to meet the requirements under the relevant Korean laws in order to obtain licenses here.

``Even if we did not specify the conditions for certificates in the FTA, they would be applied to European applicants in tandem with the agreement between the two parties. As a result, you don’t have to worry,’’ a MOFAT official said.

Song did not buy the explanation.

``Maybe, MOFAT is right in the case it did not articulate requirements for architects in the FTA, or more specifically in the Additional Commitment. But since the ministry did, the clauses in the Additional Commitment will prevail over Korean regulations,’’ Song said.

`` I cannot understand why they cause these controversies through disparities in the two versions. The disparities themselves must be corrected to weed out any misunderstanding.’’

Ratchet clause

Another issue is the so-called ratchet clause, of which the existence has been denied by the Seoul administration.

It refers to a provision preventing a country from levying new regulations on a partner.

The typical ratchet clause is seen in the lease market when landlords keep rents from decreasing on a market review or if consumer prices fall.

The clause in question is about banking and other financial services in Annex 7-A-4. It says in English ``Once Korea allows the supply of certain of these services, it may not subsequently prohibit or limit the supply of such services.’’

In Korean, however, the FTA comes up with complicated expressions, which some think are geared toward giving the impression that the Korean government is entitled to prohibit or limit the supply of already-allowed services.

``The Korean clause is very hard to understand. I suspect that is intentional. Officials might want to avoid criticism that the Korea-EU FTA includes a ratchet clause with ambiguous expressions,’’ Song said.

In reply, MOFAT said that it is not a ratchet clause and the translation is fine although the ministry eventually changed it after days of refusal to do so.

More errors

Furthermore, some dubious translations or clear typographical mistakes are seen on clauses on finance among other areas.

Annex 2-A stipulates a schedule for doing away with European duties. The Korean text says ``with a sugar content less than 13 percent by weight’’ in classifying frozen fruits and nuts, while the English text puts it ``with a sugar content exceeding 13 percent by weight.’’

``All the mistakes should be corrected. I don’t know why but MOFAT is not ready to accept this,’’ Song said.

While refusing to admit their mistakes, MOFAT eventually accepted the requests of Song to overhaul most of the aforementioned issues. Yet, observers worry that there may be more blunders.

This prompts expectations that the approval of the FTA will face a tough road ahead as the mistranslation topic comes to the fore.

Both MOFAT and the governing Grand National Party hope to give a green light to the controversial motion as soon as possible because the FTA is supposed to take effect from July 1.

The Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee needs to ratify the motion this week before the unicameral parliament gives its ultimate approval in the near future.

By contrast, opposition parties counter that the FTA texts have to go through in-depth review on the rationale that more translation errors could be found to hurt Korea’s interests.

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source: Korea Times