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‘FTA to force 210,000 to stop rice farming’

Korea Times | 18 January 2007

‘FTA to Force 210,000 to Stop Rice Farming’

By Lee Jin-woo
Staff Reporter

A lawmaker claimed Thursday that almost all South Korean rice farmers would lose their jobs if the rice trade were fully liberalized as a result of the free trade agreement (FTA) that is currently under negotiation with the United States.

Citing a report by a U.S. think tank, Institute for International Economics (IIE), Rep. Roh Hoe-chan of the progressive Democratic Labor Party (DLP) said of the country’s 215,880 rice farmers, 213,721 would be unemployed if Seoul agrees to fully open its rice market to Washington.

The number was based on a scenario that assumed complete free trade between the two countries. The researchers compared the result with another scenario, which assumed complete free trade in everything except rice.

According to the report, titled Negotiating the Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement,'' 27,633 rice farmers would lose their jobs if rice is excluded from the FTA. The report, released last year, said Korea would benefit in the medium term from the FTA by $20 billion if rice were excluded and by $27 billion if it were included. It predicted gains of $41 billion or $51 billion, depending on whether rice was included, in the long term. According to the model, the U.S. stood to benefit more from the FTA if rice was excluded. The report linked the opening of the rice market to other sectors, although the relationship was not explicit. It also did not provide detailed explanations of how researchers constructed the two scenarios. The report said some 20,000 farmers who grow vegetables and fruits would lose their jobs if the rice market opening were included in the FTA. Reps. Kim Tae-hong, left, and Im Jong-in, second from right, of the governing Uri Party hold balloons with lawmakers of the minor opposition Democratic Labor Party in front of the Shilla Hotel in Seoul, Thursday. The DLP lawmakers, including Kwon Young-gil, second from left, continued their hunger strike for the fourth consecutive day yesterday, urging the government to stop negotiations on a South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (FTA).  / Yonhap Some 116,700 people in other primary products industries would face unemployment, it said. But the industries the report linked to the opening of the rice market were not limited to agriculture. It indicated that about 6,500 South Koreans in the automobile industry would also be forced to leave their workplaces. The FTA would also force some 46,600 people in the electronic equipment industry to quit their jobs, according to the report. Rep. Roh used the figures from the report in his protest of the negotiation talks.The IIE report clearly shows the Korea-U.S. FTA will ruin a huge number of South Koreans’ lives. The South Korean government should immediately stop the negotiation,’’ he said.

Roh has staged a hunger strike with eight other DLP lawmakers since Monday, the first day of the sixth round of talks in Seoul. The DLP and civic groups have held massive street rallies to discourage the FTA.

Roh said the government should take responsibility for accepting four preconditions to the talks, including imports of U.S. beef and the screen quota reduction.

The report also clearly states that Korea took steps in January last year to reinstate imports of U.S. beef and to mitigate long-standing problems with regard to screen quotas by cutting in half the number of days on which movie theaters must show domestic films,'' he said.It said, from the U.S. perspective, these actions removed important impediments to launching the FTA talks.’’

South Korean officials have said they had to accept the preconditions to jumpstart the negotiations.

The two countries are under pressure to wrap up the talks by the end of March. U.S. negotiators are required to present a deal to the Congress for a three-month review under George W. Bush’s trade promotion authority (TPA). Bush’s TPA, which runs out on July 1, requires the Congress to vote for or against a deal without making amendments, therefore speeding up the process of approving trade agreements.

South Korea and the United States have an extensive trade relationship. Bilateral merchandise trade was about $70 billion in 2005 and bilateral services trade totaled $14 billion in 2004.

The bulk of Korea-U.S. trade is in merchandise. Agriculture accounts for only 3.5 percent of total two-way trade, down from 5 percent in 2003 because of the sharp drop in U.S. beef exports, the report said.

 source: Korea Times