No FTA Newsletter
Official News of the Korean Alliance Against the Korea-US FTA
Vol. 1, No. 3, February 16, 2007
Seventh FTA Negotiations End but Struggle Continues Daily
Friday, February 16, 2007. The 7th negotiations for Korea-U.S. FTA officially ended on Wednesday, but the struggle to stop the agreement continues on a daily basis. Today is a day of outreach throughout Seoul, which began at Seoul Station. The area was bustling with people traveling for the lunar new year, which is Sunday. The Korean Democratic Labor Party (KDLP) was one of the many groups gathered there. As the only progressive party with seats in the South Korea’s National Assembly, KDLP has opposed the FTA from the beginning.
The groups gathered there were divided into several outreach teams and dispatched to other key areas of Seoul to distribute flyers and collect petition signatures. Even with the FTA negotiations near conclusion, public attention has been relatively low, partly due to the secretive character of the negotiations and partly due to the government suppression of oppositions to the FTA, including a censorship of a TV ad created by the Agriculture and Filmmaker Committees and of the Korean Alliance Against the Korea-U.S. FTA (KoA). The ad eventually began running this week, without any sound. The public opinion remains divided in half on the FTA issue, but judging from the number of people stopping to sign the petition, their concern is growing.
This round of negotiations, which ended on February 14, is touted by both sides as having gained the momentum to finish by the end of the month. Many areas including the issue of electronics commerce have been resolved, and sensitive issues such as U.S. trade remedy laws and investor-state claim clause, which were not originally areas for concession, have been discussed.
The eighth round of negotiations will happen in Seoul from March 8 to March 12, and high-level talks, where most of the remaining issues are to be resolved, will occur regularly until the end of March. For the Korean Alliance Against Korea-U.S. FTA, February and March will become a crucial month for mass mobilization both domestically and internationally.
Anti-FTA Protest Delegation to the U.S. Concludes
On February 14, the KoA protest delegation to the U.S. carried out its last day of actions in timing with the end of the 7th round of Korea-U.S. FTA talks in Washington, D.C. As had been the case in the beginning of the week, the day’s events were diverse in their form and audience.
After morning protests in front of the negotiation site, members of the delegation joined American civil society and labor organizations in a Civil Society Forum on Free Trade Agreements and Fast Track. There, Kyung-shik Moon, chairman of the Korean Peasants League presented to a packed house on the impact of the FTA on Korean people and the anti-FTA movement. He was joined by Consuelo Ahumada of Javeriana University who spoke on the Colombia-U.S. FTA and Jeff Vogt of AFL-CIO who covered the impact of both FTAs on U.S. labor. The event concluded with the adoption of a joint resolution criticizing the Korea-U.S. FTA signed by some 50 organizations.
The mood in the afternoon changed in a response a statement by Korean Ambassador Tae-shik Lee. "If Korean Americans can eat American beef, why can’t Koreans ?" Ambassador Lee had asked rhetorically in criticism of the Korean people’s hesitance to lower health and safety regulations on imported beef to please the U.S. beef industry and ensure the conclusion of the FTA. In response, the KoA delegation and Korean Americans against War and Neoliberalism (KAWAN) braved snowy weather to stage a joint rally in front of the Korean embassy. When police arrived to shut down the protest, a short scuffle ensued with several near arrests. Fortunately, the delegates managed to avoid detention and conclude the demonstration successfully.
A closing rally was held in the evening followed by a night of solidarity with participating American-based organizations and allies. The delegation is resting a day in D.C. and will return to Korea on the night of the 17th just in time for lunar new year.
Throughout the week, the protest delegation has been successful in demonstrating the resolve of the Korean people, joined by Korean Americans and U.S.-based immigrants’, workers’, and civil society organizations, against the Korea-U.S. FTA. However they know there is much work ahead of them when they return to Korea. The 8th round of talks is already scheduled to take place in Seoul in mid-March. It will take strong determination and powerful mobilizing to match the will of both the U.S. and South Korean governments, who continue to ignore the voice their peoples’ voices in their drive to conclude this FTA.
The Deterioration of Agricultural Life
It is well known that agriculture has been one of the most contentious areas in the Korea-U.S. FTA negotiations. Since the beginning of the talks, the United States has consistently demanded full opening of the South Korean market to American-grown products. For Korean farmers the issue at stake is much more than a mere loss in profits ; it is a matter of the very survival of their livelihood and their communities. Furthermore, the severe weakening of its agriculture will have a severely negative social, culture and environmental impact on South Korea.
While most American agriculture is controlled by large corporations, all farming in South Korea is done by individual farmers with small to medium-size holdings. A brief look at statistics makes the inequity readily apparent : the total acreage of land under cultivation in the United States is 105 times as great as that in Korea (176 million ha to 1.7 million ha), the average farm-size 58 times greater (29ha to 0.48ha) and the average income of individuals in the agricultural business four times greater ($7,200 to $1,400). Like small farmers in the United States, South Korea’s farmers cannot compete with large agro-business, which mass produce cheaply-priced goods with the aid of heavy government subsidies. The U.S. negotiators have made clear that American agricultural subsidies will not be affected through the FTA. As such, Korea’s domestic agricultural products stand to loose their markets almost completely once the FTA is implemented.
The effect will be devastating for South Korean farmers. The fate of the primarily citrus-producing population of Jeju Island is a good example : the opening of South Korea’s fruit market to powerful companies such as Sunkist and Dole is projected to cause a 59% drop in the price of Korean tangerines, Jeju’s primary product, and will result in an annual loss of over $200 million dollars. This, along with reductions in the sale of potato ($72 million), garlic (no statistics available), fish ($5 to $10 million) and meat and dairy ($23-$28 million) makes bankruptcy almost inevitable for farmers on Jeju. The yearly loss for South Korean agriculture nationwide is projected to be close to $9.3 billion. This translates to an average decrease in annual salary of nearly $8000 for farmers, the majority of whom now only make only a little over $10,000 a year. U.S. statistics shows that on the whole, South Korean agricultural production will decrease by 45% after the Korea-U.S. FTA has been implemented. This means that roughly half of Korea’s farmers will loose their livelihood and have no option but to give up their farms and join the ranks of the urban poor. It was the prospect of a similar situation brought on by the WTO’s impact on South Korean agriculture that prompted farmer Lee Kyung Hae to take his own life in protest at the Cancun Ministerial in 2003, crying "WTO kills farmers !"
The vitality of South Korea’s domestic agrarian economy has significance well beyond the individual lives of Korean farmers. This significance is social, cultural and environmental. Traditionally an agricultural society, Korea’s culture as a whole is based on customs that have developed around the cycle of cultivation kept alive today in farm villages. Unfortunately, the dissipation of these communities is rapidly underway. Due to rapid industrialization, the Korean farming population has dropped from 50% to less than 10% over the last thirty years. This decrease has occurred more than twice the pace of similar declines took place in the United States and Western Europe. This process has been accelerated in the last decade as a result of trade liberalization policies, forcing hundreds of thousands of farmers to migrate to already overcrowded cities where underemployment is a growing social problem. The flip-side of this over-urbanization is a breakdown of rural ways of life and destruction of the rural environment. In order to preserve South Korea’s countryside, local communities, and culture, it is necessary to have measures to support agriculture and maintain farming as a feasible occupation ; the comprehensive opening of South Korea’s agricultural market is neither wise nor necessary at this time.
Protective measures are not without precedent. The Swiss government, for example, has, since the first half of the 1990s, officially recognized that the importance of local agriculture goes beyond simple economics, to include preservation of the countryside and long-term sustainability of natural eco-systems. It has thus implemented a subsidy-system to protect and revitalize Swiss farming communities, now only 4% of the population. This goal was also one of the main reasons behind Switzerland’s decision to suspend FTA negotiations with the United States.
The Swiss case provides an important example for South Korea, especially now as it faces the deterioration of its rural villages and ways of life. The South Korean government should be moving to protect agriculture now, not exposing it to over-produced imports which can only but mean its downfall. Although the South Korean government has promised some consideration of this matter in the FTA negotiations, the obviously blind will it has demonstrated towards concluding a deal shows us we should not trust these promises. Clearly, the only way to safeguard Korean agriculture is to abandon the Korea-U.S. FTA completely.