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U.S. envoy demands amending bill on foreign law firms

All News 14:03 January 18, 2016

SEOUL, Jan. 18 (Yonhap) -- Mark Lippert, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, on Monday demanded Seoul amend a bill on permitting foreign law firms to run joint ventures in the country.

The Foreign Legal Consultant Act, currently pending in the parliament, is designed to allow law firms from the United States, Australia, Canada and the European Union to operate joint ventures in South Korea as part of the country's free trade agreements with the U.S. and the E.U. to open the legal market.

The top U.S. envoy made the demand during his visit to the National Assembly in Seoul, where he met with Lee Sang-min, chief of the parliament's legislation and judiciary committee, to deliver a letter by ambassadors from the four countries, including him.

The ambassadors said that the current draft is not consistent with Seoul's commitment to free trade, arguing that it currently contains several conditions that would delay the creation of joint ventures.

"Namely, those conditions include limiting foreign equity in the joint ventures to 49 percent, which would prevent foreign entities from controlling their investments; stipulating that foreign firms may form joint ventures only with South Korean entities in existence for three or more years; and limiting the scope of practice, which would significantly disadvantage foreign-Korea joint venture firms," according to the letter.

In response, Rep. Lee said the committee will take some time to further deliberate on the bill before introducing it at the committee's general meeting.

The Korean Bar Association, meanwhile, criticized the letter by the ambassadors, calling it a violation of South Korea's sovereignty.

"It is not only an act of violating the sovereignty of the Republic of Korea but also an act that forces discrimination against local firms for the interest of their own," the association said in a press release.


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