BY KYO SUH
More than 60 Koreans will cross the Pacific and descend on Seattle the week of Sept. 4. They are not the usual tourists or shoppers — rather they are farmers and workers who are compelled to come to Seattle to show their opposition to the proposed Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KorUS-FTA), which they argue does not offer adequate labor, agriculture and environmental protections. They will be joined by scores of Korean American activists and American supporters, including labor organizations affiliated with the AFL-CIO and local Asian Pacific American groups.
Seattle will be hosting the third round of FTA talks between South Korea and the United States, which will be the biggest Free Trade Agreement since NAFTA if ratified. It will be hosted by the Washington Council on International Trade and takes place at the Trade and Convention Center from Sept. 6 – 9.
Joint protests by Koreans and Korean Americans began during the first round of talks in Washington, D.C. in June, and by the second round of talks in July in Seoul, Korea, over a 100,000 people protested in the streets. About a half of all South Koreans have shown opposition to the KorUS-FTA in public opinion polls.
Free trade policies such as the proposed KorUS-FTA, despite promises of significant benefits, have had devastating effects on the lives of Americans as well as workers in partner countries. Though Free Trade Agreements are widely touted for encouraging foreign direct investment, creating jobs and jump-starting economies, most of these investments are in mergers and acquisitions, resulting in job losses. NAFTA sent formerly high-paying manufacturing jobs to Mexico, forced Mexican subsistence farmers to the cities and drove wages down, leading many to risk their lives immigrating to the United States.
South Koreans fear a similar fate for their farmers, as well as the worsening of working conditions. The upcoming FTA negotiations address some 17 trade categories; the primary issues for Koreans are agriculture (especially rice and beef), automobiles, pharmaceuticals and the film screen quota.
In June, U.S. Congressmembers Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio). Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and Barbara Lee (D-Cailf.) have shown support for the causes of the Korean protesters, holding a joint press conference. Rep. Dennis Kucinich said: “Once again Washington is ready to pass another trade agreement that benefits multinational corporations at the expense of workers and the environment. It is urgent that we end this race to the bottom and work for trade agreements that respect workers’ rights, human rights and environmental principles.”
The protests are organized by the Korean Alliance Against Korea-U.S. FTA (KoA), a South Korean coalition of 280 organizations, and Korean Americans Against War and Neoliberalism (KAWAN), a U.S. coalition of Korean American organizations joined by over 70 other groups and contingents from across the United States, representing labor unions and women, environment and immigrants groups.
Highlights of the week-long activities in Seattle will include: Opening Rally and March on Sept. 6 at Westlake Park, with representatives from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and AFL-CIO, followed by an International Cultural Performance and Candlelight Vigil; “Sam Bo Il Bae” March from Westlake Park on Sept. 8 (In “Sam Bo Il Bae,” originally born from the Buddhist tradition, participants do the entire march by taking three steps, then a full bow to the ground – demonstrating deep commitment to the struggle.); Funeral March and Closing Rally on Sept. 9 at the Federal Building. Contact: [email protected].
Kyo Suh is executive director of Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Korean Americans and a member of KAWAN (Korean Americans Against War and Neoliberalism).