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Trade-talk foes hit the streets

Seattle Times

Trade-talk foes hit the streets

By Alwyn Scott, Seattle Times business reporter

7 September 2006

Korean workers and farmers take the front line of a demonstration Wednesday against U.S. trade talks with South Korea. The midday march briefly stopped downtown traffic as demonstrators laid down in the streets around Westlake Park.

A procession of drummers leads foes of the trade talks between the U.S. and South Korea. Demonstrators paused outside site of the talks, the Washington State Convention and Trade Center.

Led by Korean workers and farmers pounding drums and dancing, about 500 protesters paraded through downtown Seattle on Wednesday afternoon to protest U.S. trade talks with South Korea.

Undeterred, the talks got under way as scheduled. The noisy, choreographed protest, led by about 60 South Korean nationals, didn’t disrupt any meetings, which are on a tight deadline to reach an accord by year-end, U.S. officials said.

The midday march briefly stopped downtown traffic as Korean demonstrators lay down in the streets around Westlake Park and the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, near where the talks are taking place.

But the well-organized protesters, backed by many U.S. union workers, quickly rose and continued their march.

Seattle police kept a low profile, with officers on bicycles, motorcycles and horses.

There was no sign of the riot gear and tear gas that marred the 1999 World Trade Organization talks in Seattle, and the demonstrators didn’t challenge police, occupy streets or try to block building entrances.

A broad array of local labor unions - from longshoremen, machinists and aerospace engineers to service, food, postal, and autoworkers - turned out to swell the number of demonstrators from the relatively small contingent that had traveled from South Korea.

Many carried signs demanding "fair trade" over "free trade" as they marched to the site of the talks and rallied.

"Fair trade means worker rights, environmental rights and human rights have to be part of any agreement," said Jim Padur, a retired Tacoma boatyard worker and Machinists union member.

"We can’t have another NAFTA."

The agreement proposed with South Korea is, in fact, patterned on the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement among the U.S., Mexico and Canada that dropped trade barriers but failed to produce the rising incomes on both sides of the border that its backers predicted.

NAFTA coincided with wage erosion and worker displacement for many, according to studies.

Supporters of trade deals say they create jobs, stimulate growth and lift people out of poverty. Many Koreans see economic integration with the U.S. as key to growth and national security.

But also within Korea, some 70,000 people turned out to protest the talks in July.

The talks in Seattle are the third meeting since negotiations with Korea began in June.

After tabling proposals last month for tariff reductions on thousands of individual traded goods, negotiators are now in a "give-and-take phase," said Wendy Cutler, the chief U.S. negotiator.

More demonstrations are planned throughout the week as the talks continue through Saturday.