Korea-U.S. FTA Concluded against the Will of the Korean People; People’s Protest Goes On

Original Publication Date: 
4 April, 2007

On Sunday April 1 at 4:00pm , taxi driver and KCTU member Heo Sae-wook stood before the Nam San Hyatt Hotel, where that final high-level FTA negotiations were taking place, and lit himself on fire chanting, "Down with the Korea-U.S. FTA". His cries could still be heard afterwards as he was rushed to the Yongsan Critical Care Hospital . He has since been moved to Hangang Seongsim Hospital , where he remains in critical condition. Mr. Heo's self-immolation is a clear indication of the rage Korean workers, farmers, and common people feel at Roh Moo-hyun Administration's relentless effort to conclude the FTA, and the desperation they feel at the prospect of the future that the FTA holds in store for them.

Nonetheless, on April 2 at 1:00pm , less than one day later, Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-jong announced that an agreement had been reached. The Korea-U.S. FTA has been concluded with no regard for the mass opposition from the Korean people, their allies throughout Asia , and American organized labor and civil society. It has never been more obvious than now that this FTA is the unilateral project of the USTR Office and the Bush and Roh administrations, pushed through above the demands of both country's peoples.

The last round of high-level negotiations, which went on past two deadline extension over the weekend of April 1, were surrounded by intense protests, including Mr. Heo's self-immolation. On Friday, May 30, the day the talks were originally scheduled to end, farmers, workers and social movement organizations held a press conference near the Blue House (the President's residence) during the afternoon. A candle light vigil at City Hall Square held later in the evening was attended by several thousand. At the conclusion of this event participants took to the streets and attempted to march to the Blue House, but were stopped by riot police. They then began a sit-down protest despite cold weather and rain, determined to rally until the result of the negotiations came out, only to hear that the United States had asked for a 48-hour extension of the talks. On the evening of April 1, thousands took to the streets again, this time evading police enough to get within blocks of the Blue House, but heard that the U.S. had again extended the talks; the conclusion of the FTA was not announced until 1:00pm the following day.

The Korea-U.S. FTA, as we feared, promises gains only for investors and big business and represents an attack on the livelihood of farmers, worker, and common people. The government and mainstream media are lauding the removal of U.S. tariffs on automobiles, auto parts, and textiles as huge successes, but we know that the benefits these measures will bring to capital in no way outweigh the negative impact increased competition will have on wages and workers rights in both countries. In the area of agriculture, although rice was exempted, the phasing out of tariffs on beef, pork, and oranges severely endangers Korea 's rural communities. In addition, the lowering of beef-related health and safety standards to allow both boneless and bone-in American beef is expected to come after the meeting of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). Longer patents for pharmaceuticals will mean a rise in drug costs for individuals and a taxing of the national healthcare system, and the opening of satellite broadcasting to foreign investors and reduction of protection for Korean programming will erode the unique cultural character of Korea