Saturday, February 10, 2007

News From Korean Alliance Against KorUS FTA

Protest Delegation Sets off for Washington D.C.

On February 10, a Korean Protest Delegation made up of representatives from workers, farmers, cultural and social movement organizations left Incheon Airport for the United States. at 3:05pm. The group's mission is to protest the Korea-US FTA negotiations, which will go into their 7 th round from Feb. 11 to 14 at the Hyatt Regent in Washington, D.C. This is not the first time that such a group has gone to the U.S. Since the 2nd round of talks were held in D.C. in June of last year, the Korean Alliance against the KorUS FTA, a coalition of over 300 groups in South Korea, has organized protest delegations of this kind to send each time the FTA negotiations are held abroad. Korean delegations have now protested in D.C., Seattle and Montana during the first, third and fifth round of talks. The second, fourth and sixth rounds were held in South Korea.

This 7th round of talks is especially significant. The negotiators from both countries are racing to reach an agreement in time to submit it to the U.S. Congress before the U.S. president's Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) expires on July 1 st. TPA authorizes the president to sign an agreement before Congress sees it and then requires that Congress vote it up or down with out amendment. Because trade legislation must be submitted to Congress at least 90 days in advance of a vote, the Korea-US FTA must be concluded by the end of March to meet the deadline. Although Kim Jong-hoon, chief negotiator for the Korean side as mentioned the possibility of an 8 th round, both sides are hoping to make significant progress, if not conclude a deal this week.

Predicting that large concessions will be made in order get an agreement signed, the Korean protest delegation and American-based organizations are changing their tactics to meet the situation. Besides standard rallies, street demonstrations and vigils, they will hold an overnight tent protest for the entire span of the negotiations. Advocacy work on Capitol Hill is also planned in anticipation that the agreement will be concluded. The protest delegates will throw all their energy into raising awareness about the FTA, which they say is 'unfair trade' that will cost jobs and increase social polarization in both countries, from the streets to the briefing rooms.

But the protest delegations have had results other than just strengthening FTA-sentiment. The Koreans have also built a strong solidarity with Korean Americans, in particular the national organization Korean Americans against War and Neoliberalism (KAWAN). KoA and KAWAN have now been working together for nine months to carry out the anti-FTA struggle on both sides of the Pacific. In addition, exchanges have occurred and solidarity built with other immigrant, people of color and queer communities and labor organizations in the U.S. who are fighting neoliberalism. "I have a lot of expectations," said Soo-kyung Jang, Executive Director of the Women's Committee of KoA. "Personally I am looking forward to meeting the brothers and sisters I met in Seattle and sharing ideas about solidarity."

Protest will also occur in Seoul, South Korea at the same time as they are going on in D.C. KoA has planned events through the week, including a large rally and prayer protest this Monday, but has been denied permits, even for peaceful demonstrations. In fact, the South Korean government has enforced a ban on all FTA protests since last November, actively seeking to quell anti-FTA sentiment. Organizers, undaunted, say they will go ahead with their plans and call the government's ban a violation of the rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

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