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’Who is this workshop for?’

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Protestors listen to a leader of the Jeju branch of the Korean Peasant League before a government-led workshop on the Korea-US FTA takes place in Jeju City, Jan. 9. Photo by Angela Kim

Jeju Weekly | January 09, 2012

’Who is this workshop for?’

Seven protesting farmers and fishermen barred from a government meeting on the Korea-US FTA are arrested in Jeju City, Jan. 9

Angela Kim

On Jan. 9, a Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries workshop was held on Jeju at the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province Agricultural Research and Extension Services building, in Jeju City. This is one of nine meetings related to the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (FTA) being held by the government around the country from Jan. 4 to Jan. 13.

The goal of the nine province-workshop tour is to explain the government’s agricultural policies and explain supplementary measures of the Korea-US FTA to civil servants and National Agricultural Cooperative Federation (Nonghyup) workers who work closely with the farmers.

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A farmer protesting the Korea-US FTA agreement is surrounded by police before the goverment workshop started at 2 p.m., Jan. 9, in Jeju City. He was subsequently arrested and removed from the site. Photo by Angela Kim

Over 30 farmers from the Korean Women Peasant Association and the Korean Peasant League protested in front of the building from 1 p.m. with picket signs that read “The Korea-US FTA is poison” and “We are against the Korea-US FTA which harms orange farms.”

“It was supposed to be a place for government workers to listen to what we [the farmers] have to say,” said Ko Moon Sam Chairman of Association of Jeju Agricultural Associations. “However, it is a closed-door meeting only with government workers and Nonghyup].”

Over 300 policemen in riot gear and bright yellow police coats were deployed to the area around the government building. Many of the protesting farmers expressed frustration at being blocked from entering part of the public building dedicated to the use of Jeju farmers and fishermen.

During the protest, a leader from The Korean Peasants League Jeju Branch wearing a red headband reading “Down with the FTA” said, “If the FTA is implemented, over 1 trillion won [US$860 million] worth of damage will be done to Jeju. How can this kind of workshop prevent that much damage?”

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Some 220 provincial officials, civil servants, and Nonghyup workers gather in the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province Agricultural Research and Extension Services building on Jan. 9 to hear second vice minster Oh Jung Gyu and others answer FTA-related questions on a nine-province tour. Photo by Angela Kim

Seven of the protesters, including Korean Peasants League Jeju President Kim Jang Taek, were arrested for obstruction of justice before the workshop began at 2:10 p.m.

While the workshop was in progress, farmers could be heard shouting outside, “Who is this workshop for?”

To minimize damage to Korea’s agricultural and fishery sector, the government plans to modernize agricultural and fishery infrastructures, reduce interest rates for farmers, promote seed engineering, provide tax-free oils to farmers and fishermen, and more.

Oh Jung Gyu, the second vice minister of the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, told the crowded lecture hall that the FTA is “needed” and “unavoidable.”

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Flanked by police, second vice minister of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Oh Jung Gyu, leaves the workshop from the backdoor of the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province Agricultural Research and Extension Services building to avoid protestors. Photo by Angela Kim.

“There are 137 FTAs in the world. The world is in FTA competition mode,” he said. “Our ambition is too big for us to stay inside and build a wall against other countries.”

Oh emphasized not only the economic benefits of the agreement, but also its importance for national security.

Then a Q&A session followed. Attendees asked questions to the vice minister and four other officials about the government’s policies specifically on Jeju.

 source: Jeju Weekly