Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Worse than NAFTA: S. Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) would hurt U.S. & S. Korean small farmers & workers; Burmese, N. Korean slave laborers

(Photo: Korea Policy Institute)

• "South Korea ‘Free Trade’ Deal: Another Funnel for Exploitation" by Roger Bybee, In These Times, June 3, 2011:
KORUS is based on the NAFTA model, the outstanding achievement of which was managing to lower living conditions for the majority of citizens in three nations (United States, Mexico, and Canada) simultaneously...

KORUS defines “South Korean-made” as any product that has at least 35% of its value created in South Korea. Under this rule, the origin of the remaining 65% does not matter. “So South Korea can use components made by slave labor in Myanmar or in China with its repressive conditions and currency manipulations,” McKinnon told In These Times.

KORUS would potentially open up the United States to components produced under one of the world's most tightly-repressive nations. The rigid police state of North Korea has opened up a free-trade zone employing about 40,000 workers currently. South Korean firms operating factories in the zone typically pay the North Korean government just $3 to $4 per day per worker, of which the worker gets to keep just $1.
• "Why We Must Oppose the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement" by Christine Ahn and Seung Hye Suh, Korea Policy Institute, May 25, 2011:
If passed, the Korea-U.S. FTA is predicted to have profound consequences on jobs, workers' rights, environmental protections, the U.S. trade deficit, banking and financial services, healthcare, agriculture, and both governments' ability to pass public health and anti-discrimination laws.

Yet here in the United States, there is almost no word about it in the media and no public debate. Large corporations and the South Korean Embassy have been spending millions of dollars to lobby for the FTA while the U.S. people, a majority of whom opposes such deals, are not even aware that the largest trade deal since NAFTA could be passed before mid-summer...

Korean farmers are so militant because for them, this is a struggle between life and death. This FTA—because of the stark differences between Korean and U.S. farms—will drive most farmers to ruin. Korea has only 4.2 million acres of farmland, compared with the US's 434 million. The average farm size in Korea is 1.2 acres, compared with the U.S.'s 71 acres. The National Family Farm Coalition, an alliance of American small family farmers, opposes the deal because only large U.S. agribusiness corporations will benefit. Meanwhile, the Korean Peasants League estimates that if the FTA is implemented, Korean agricultural production will decrease by 45 percent and force roughly half of Korean farmers off their land. Korean farmers stand to lose their land, livelihoods and lives, and Korea stands to lose its rural farming tradition and culture...

One of the most dangerous parts of this FTA for people in general and workers specifically is its investment chapter. The deal was negotiated in 2006, at the height of the deregulatory fervor that brought on our current economic recession. The deal grants unprecedented freedoms to investment banks and financial corporations to manipulate the economy. In the late 1990s, many in our Korean American community immigrated to the U.S. because of the Asian financial crisis that ravaged Korea's economy. Koreans not only lost jobs and savings, they lost significant labor protections while their quality of life and work prospects drastically declined. Even as Korea's overall economy eventually improved, the lives of ordinary Koreans did not. More people became irregular workers, earning half the salary of regular workers and without benefits or pensions. In 2000, 40 percent of Korean workers were irregular workers; by 2008, that number had grown to 60 percent. Of that irregular workforce, 67.5 percent are women workers. Korea also has the largest gender wage gap of all OECD countries.

Most labor economists say that this FTA will only intensify these trends and eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs, at a time when both governments are cutting social welfare programs. Furthermore, neither the U.S. nor Korea has ratified ILO Conventions 87 and 98, which are core international labor standards guaranteeing the freedom of association, the right to organize, and the right to collective bargaining...

The FTA has also been used to dismantle Korea's environmental and public health laws. During talks, Korea agreed to a side deal, which basically overturned its 2000 genetic engineering labeling law that kept genetically modified organisms (GMOs) out of Korea's food supply. By 2008, Korea had approved 102 GMOs for import as feed or food, 70 percent from the U.S. firms Monsanto, Dupont and Dow Chemical...

Finally, if passed, the FTA has and will continue to seriously undermine democracy in both Korea and the United States. In Korea, perhaps the most egregious example is the dismantling of Korea's universal healthcare system...
• "Korea US Free Trade Agreement Another Cash Cow for Corporations" by Jim Goodman,, April 11, 2011:
...U.S. agricultural interests stand to gain billions in earnings. Farmers, however, are not international traders. The real profit in agriculture is made in the corporate boardroom; farmers don’t have a seat there. Perhaps the stronger point is that most farmers worldwide produce food to be consumed locally, not commodities for international trade. They stand to be victims of corporate “dumping” rather than standing to benefit by trade.

Like Mexican and Central American farmers under NAFTA and CAFTA, Korean farmers...stand to lose their land, their culture and their dignity.

If the argument in favor of KORUS is increased corporate profit, fine, call it that, but it is a perverse misrepresentation to imply that U.S. farmers and workers will profit. Farmers and workers do not have the power, the lawyers or the off-shore banks that the multi-national corporations use to push their agenda.

As tariff barriers are removed, the world will indeed be the oyster of multi-national corporations. Shakespeare could be quoted as their guiding light: “Why then the world’s mine oyster/Which I with sword will open."
• "Free Trade Kills Korean Farmers" by Christine Ahn and Albie Miles, Foreign Policy in Focus, February 15, 2011:
The Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (Korea FTA), which the Obama administration is promising to send to Congress for ratification in the next weeks, would be the largest international trade deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Korea is the seventh largest U.S. trading partner and the United States is Korea’s third largest trading partner. Commerce between the two countries is estimated at $86 billion annually. The Korea FTA was originally signed in April 2007 by President Bush and later amended by the Obama administration in December 2010. But neither the U.S. Congress nor the South Korean parliament has yet to sign it...

In 1995, South Korea joined the World Trade Organization and signed the Agreement on Agriculture. Like many Asian countries, South Korea had limited foreign agricultural imports through the use of quotas and tariffs to protect their agricultural base. But by signing the Agreement on Agriculture, Korea was forced to end its system of quotas and tariffs, and begin to import a certain amount of agricultural commodities.

Meanwhile, as the United States and the EU were forcing farmers in poor developing countries through the WTO to open their markets, they were providing billions of subsidies to their own farmers. From 1995 to 2005, OECD countries collectively increased the subsidies they provided their farmers from $182 billion to $300 billion. Although most unsubsidized peasant farmers around the world lived on less than $400 a year, U.S. and EU farmers received on average $21,000 and $16,000 annually in subsidies.

Opening Korean markets to cheap foreign imports devastated Korean farmers. Since the 1995 Agreement on Agriculture, Korean farmer debt grew four-fold to approximately $30,000 forcing millions off their land and into poverty. In 1970, farmers made up 44.7 percent of the Korean population. By 1995, only 11.6 percent were farmers. Today, only 3.2 million Korean farmers remain, comprising 7 percent of the population. According to Reverend Han Kyung Ho, President of the Korean Rural Mission, Korea’s dependency on imported food has reduced its food self-sufficiency from 56 percent in 1980 to 25.3 percent by 2004. Lee Kwang Seok of the Korean Peasants League points out that, with rice out of the equation, Korea would only be 5-6 percent food self sufficient. “If a country depends on other countries for food, the sovereignty of the whole nation becomes threatened,” says Reverend Han. “Food is a strong weapon to control another country.”
• In-depth and detailed scholarly analysis of KORUS: "Capitalism, the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement, and Resistance" by Martin Hart-Landsberg, temporarily available as a free download at the Critical Asian Studies website.

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