Saturday, June 30, 2007

Anti-FTA Signing Ceremony

For immediate release
June 30, 2007

Contact: Hyun Lee 347 242 6801

As the U.S. and Korea Sign the Biggest Trade Agreement since NAFTA,
Koreans at the First U.S. Social Forum Sign Anti-FTA Resolution

ATLANTA, GA — Koreans from all over the U.S. and abroad at the first ever U.S. Social Forum marked the official June 30 signing of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with an “anti-FTA signing ceremony”. Leaders of people’s movements from Korea and the U.S. spoke out against the devastating consequences of NAFTA-style free trade.

“Today, the Korean and U.S. governments sign a death sentence for the millions of small farmers and workers in Korea,” said Jaesoo Lee, Executive Director of Korean Americans against War and Neoliberalism. “We, gathered at the first ever U.S. Social Forum, condemn the two governments for imposing NAFTA-style free trade that will devastate the lives of millions in both countries. In opposition, we sign a collective resolution to step up our fight to defeat the Korea-U.S. FTA.”

South Korean and U.S. trade officials sign today a free trade deal they struck in April that studies warn could wipe out Korea’s agricultural sector when markets open up to U.S. goods, and cut off access to life-saving medicines for the poor. The biggest U.S. trade deal in 15 years, reached after 10 months of negotiations, has faced fierce opposition from South Korean small farmers and trade unionists, as well as Korean Americans, who have joined forces to stop its passage. Today marks the deadline by which the FTA must be signed in order to be eligible for the fast-track process once it is sent to the U.S. Congress. After it is signed, the FTA must be voted on by the legislative bodies of both countries to be ratified.

Speaking of the last minute negotiation efforts by the U.S. to include provisions on labor and environment in the final agreement, Christine Ahn, National Coordinator for Korean Americans for Fair Trade said, “The so-called ‘fixes’ made to get the deal through the Democratic controlled Congress do not sufficiently address the problems with the NAFTA model and must not be passed."

“NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement] was directly responsible for creating economic refugees, forcing Mexican small farmers off their land and to migrate in search of a more sustainable living,” added Hyuk-kyo Suh, Executive Director of National Association of Korean Americans. “This ‘one-size-fits-all’ U.S. free trade agreement model has been proven to fail.
The time for a new direction in U.S. trade policy is long overdue."

Farmer leaders from Korea, Colombia, and the U.S. led a crowd of four hundred gathered at the Atlanta Civic Center in hand-stamping red paint on a banner that read “No FTA” as a collective show of resolution to fight together to oppose the Korea-U.S. FTA.


Resolution to Oppose the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement
And All NAFTA-Style “Free Trade”

For over a decade, multinational companies and their allies in government have been using so-called "free trade" agreements to restructure the economy for their own benefit. Corporations impose privatization, smaller public budgets, and lower labor and environmental standards on the world's people without our consent. So-called "free trade" allows companies to move jobs across borders in search of cheap labor and lax environmental standards, force workers into low wages and substandard conditions, and plunder the world’s scarce natural resources.

Working-class communities, communities of color and indigenous peoples have suffered the brunt of this attack, with the loss of good jobs, poisoning of our environment, and privatization of land and public services. As so-called “free trade” destroys the livelihoods of people in poorer countries, they are forced to leave their families to work in wealthier countries.

As we speak, the Bush administration seeks renewal of Trade Promotion Authority, or "fast track," which gives him the ability to sign trade agreements without democratic process. Bush is also seeking approval for free trade agreements recently negotiated between the United States with Colombia, Panama, Peru, and South Korea. These agreements are modeled after the failed NAFTA. The weak labor provisions of these free trade agreements will restrict the ability of workers to seek better wages and working conditions. They would add to the problem of global warming by removing South Korea’s auto emission standards, as well as causing severe damage to the virgin tropical forests of Colombia, Panama and Peru. Increased importation of subsidized American crops will devastate small farmers and destroy these countries’ food self-sufficiency.

The governments of Colombia, Peru, and South Korea, in their eagerness to pursue free trade agreements with the United States, have violated the basic principles of democracy and used violent repression against their own people, including the assassination of 2000 labor leaders in the case of Colombia, and the outlawing of all protests against the free trade agreement in South Korea.

The social and environmental justice movements around the world have been at the center of resistance to corporate globalization. The spirit of internationalism, solidarity, and militant struggle for another world unite the fifteen thousand people gathered here in Atlanta for the first-ever U.S. Social Forum. Now is the time to intensify the struggle for an alternative model of economic integration, an alternative which reflects the needs and aspirations of those most affected by corporate globalization. We must continue our opposition to all alleged "free trade" agreements, and "fast-track," which serve only to enrich multinational corporations at the expense of the rest of us.

Today, June 30, 2007, marks the official signing of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement between the Korean and U.S. governments. We, gathered at the first-ever U.S. Social Forum, condemn the two governments for signing what amounts to a death sentence for the millions of small farmers and ordinary workers in both countries. Therefore, we are resolved to strengthen our struggle to defeat the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and all NAFTA-style free trade. We are further resolved to redouble our efforts to build a just, inclusive, and sustainable world, where people and environment come first before profits.

June 30, 2007
U.S. Social Forum, Atlanta Georgia

Friday, June 29, 2007

Korean caucus at the USSF


Saturday, June 30, 2007
"Fighting US Militarism in the Asia Pacific Region" Westin Hotel International G (NOTE ROOM CHANGE)

"Approaches to Organizing on Trade" 1 PM International B Room at the Westin Hotel

As someone who is new to blogging, please bear with me as I develop a blogging style that is suitable for our blog.

It's Friday night and I'm at the Westin Hotel. It's been a full day at the USSF. We started today's sessions with an incredible Korean caucus. We had all of our Kawan members--over 20--and then some 30 new Korean faces. We went around the room introducing ourselves and where we came from, and there were cities never represented before by KAWAN--Atlanta, Burlington, and several others.

Then JC did an off the hook brief history of progressive Korean activism stemming from the turn of the last century. We're hoping to upload the presentation since it was so good and concise. I wont attempt to go into the history but one statistic that stayed with me was the fact that Koreans in the US had sent $88,000 despite earning something like 65 cents per day over 35 years to Shanghai province to support independence struggles during japanese occupation. After that, Hyun brought us to the present and updated us on the work that KAWAN has done in the past year around Pyongtaek and the Korus FTA. It was remarkable to hear how we've managed to organize resistance at every negotiation from DC to Seattle to Montana to DC. We've also managed to publish several opeds and even organize a legislative lobby strategy! Plus we organized the eyewitness delegation to Pyongtaek and for the FTA struggle in Seoul.

But KAWAN is significant because it is the first time that Coreans in the US are coming together since the 1980s when they were supporting the pro-democracy movements. Plus we are very diverse in age, generations, language, gender, politics, etc. We then discussed our challenges and opportunities, which were a remarkable list of what's possible. We closed our caucus with the Assata Shakur quote:
"It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains."

Tears welled up in my eyes as I looked around the circle and saw the powerful young leaders who will carry on this work of reunification and equality. We then finished with some groups photos, which I will post later.

There's so much going on here at the US SF, but there seems to be alot of energy around the Right to City campaign organized by CAAAV, Miami Workers Center, and several other movement-based organizations around the country. Keep your eyes peeled for this exciting movement.

More to come,

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Countering the Bilateral Free Trade Agenda

KAWAN at the US Social Forum Events to Come

Friday, June 29, 2007
KAWAN Caucus, 10:30 AM at Atlanta Ballroom H, Westin Hotel

Saturday, June 30, 2007
"Fighting US Militarism in the Asia Pacific Region" 1PM at Balcony Left room, Atlanta Civic Center

"Approaches to Organizing on Trade" 1 PM International B Room at the Westin Hotel

Greetings from Atlanta!

KAWAN organized its first workshop today with Grassroots Global Justice and Witness for Peace on Countering the Bilateral Free Trade Agenda. At one point during the workshop, I looked around the room in total awe at the diversity and power that existed in the room. Speaking to the experience that unfettered free trade has had on farmers and peasants in the U.S. and around the world were Norberto Jimenez from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, German Bedoya--a Colombian campesina, Bill Christensen from the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, and Sin Moon Hee of the Korean Women Peasants Alliance.

Norberto Jimenez from CIW immigrated to Immokalee, FL from Oaxaca, Mexico where before NAFTA he and his family were subsistence farmers. He said, "Before NAFTA, our lives were never easy, but we had enough food for ourselves and our families." But because NAFTA allowed massively subsidized crops from the United States to be dumped into Mexico, millions of Mexican farmers and peasants, unable to survive have been forced to migrate to the cities to find work in the factories or to risk their lives crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to find slave wages and no human rights in America.

The next speaker was German Bedoya, a Colombian campesina, who KAWAN had the fortune of traveling with us all the way to Korea for the Eyewitness delegation last November. German shared how the Colombian economy was forced open in 1990 as cheap products began to flood their markets from all over, which rapidly led to the disappearance of Colombia's domestic bean, rice, and wheat production. Then came "Plan Colombia", which he said has been "Plan for War." Since then over 4 million indigenous peasants have been displaced, ranking Colombia second in the world for internally displaced people. The increasing military and paramilitary in Colombia has been used to suppress the people and any opposition to the Colombia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, already signed by the governments of both countries and awaiting Congressional ratification. German said that approximately 90 percent of the parliamentary members are affiliated with the paramilitaries, which makes engaging the democratic process in Colombia virtually worthless. "Once the FTA is passed," German said, "We will be forced to cultivate bitter yucca, sugar cane, and palm oil using genetically modified technology for transnational corporations." The growing demand for biofuels is driving an insane agenda where the emphasis is on more fuel for cars than to feed humans. German told us that there was tremendous opposition in Colombia to the FTA, and reminded us that there was resistance movements that needed the organizing of the people across borders to stop the neoliberal free trade regime.

Bill Christensen, a fourth generation family farmer from Missouri, started his talk by reminding us that the free trade agenda is driven by multinational corporations. Most of the beef in the United States, which has become a contentious issue in the Korea US Free Trade Agreement, is produced by corporations, not family farmers. "Someone is benefiting from NAFTA and the FTAs," Christensen said, "but not family farmers in the United States." He said that a combination of bad farm bill and broken trade policies makes for a disastrous scenario for U.S. family farmers where the trade surplus has now shrunk to a deficit. He pointed to the winners: In the first year of NAFTA, the agribusiness corporate moguls Archer Daniels Midland had grown their profits from $110 million to $300 million, and Cargill had grown their profits from $468 million to $827 million. And despite the promises of the free traders that these agreements will lower our food costs, Christensen informed us that since NAFTA the price of food has increased by 27% and the money paid to farmers per dollar dropped from $0.32 to $0.19. "The production of fruits, vegetables and meats would not be possible without immigrants," Christensen said, "They are the ones growing our food."

Last but not least, Sin Moon Hee, the General Secretary of the Korean Womens' Peasants Alliance, began by thanking KAWAN for inviting not just a peasant, but a woman peasant, to come to the US Social Forum to share their struggle against the Korea-US FTA. She began by giving some context to the current US-Korea relations. When North and South Korea signed their historic agreement on June 15 2000 where they committed to begin reunification efforts, this frightened the U.S. and the challenge that reunification posed over its grip economically and militarily on the Korean peninsula. And like Colombia, when the IMF crisis swept through South Korea, the country was forced to open its agricultural markets. As a result, over 50 percent of South Korean stocks are owned by foreign corporations and now over 50% of south Korean workers are irregular, meaning they dont have basic labor rights or pensions. As a a result, in the last 10 years, Korean peasants have been suffering and instead of investing in those who produce food for people, the government has chosen to add further insult to injury by offering the Korea-US FTA as a silver bullet to solve poverty and unemployment in Korea. This has led desperate peasants to take their lives. According to Moon-Hee, at least one peasant has taken their life daily. In 1990, South Korea had 10 million farmers. Today, she said that there is approximately 3 million. This is what unfettered free trade has done to the Korean farmers and the countryside. She told us that the South Korean government has been waging a fierce campaign in support of the FTA, despite the fact that there are millions opposed to this unfair trade deal. She said that one-third of parliamentarians are opposed to the deal and that there is a good chance that the Korea-US FTA can be defeated. "Are you going to have Cargill or Monsanto determine what you eat?" she asked. We need to honor those who grow our food, and this workshop demonstrated how farmers around the world--including in the U.S.--have had their lives, livelihoods, and the environment devastated under the free trade regime.

Lastly, I went with Sin Moon Hee to the Via Campesina caucus meeting at the migrant rights tent. It was a great opportunity for her to see the number of peasants and farmworkers sitting together under that tent. She was also very moved, she told me, that whenever she lets other peasants know that she is from Korea, that their eyes light up with respect and admiration for how the Korean peasants and trade unionists have been waging a fierce opposition to the WTO and the bilaterals.

We must not forget that peoples' movements have managed to stop talks in Seattle, Cancun, and Hong Kong. Now we just need to stop the bilaterals which is the tactic used by the neoliberalists since the WTO is near collapse. We must keep the pressure on and as the US Social Forum motto says, "Another World is Possible, Another U.S. is Necessary."

More to come tomorrow. Peace.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

KAWAN is going to the US Social Forum - June 27, 2007-July 1, 2007

The following workshops have been organized by KAWAN, see you in Atlanta!

Thursday, June 28, 2007
"Countering the Bilateral Free Trade Strategy" 1PM - Workshop,` Centennial Ballroom, Atlanta Marriott Downtown

Friday, June 29, 2007
KAWAN Caucus, 10:30 AM at Atlanta Ballroom H, Westin Hotel

Saturday, June 30, 2007
"Fighting US Militarism in the Asia Pacific Region" 1PM at Balcony Left room, Atlanta Civic Center

"Approaches to Organizing on Trade" 1 PM International B Room at the Westin Hotel

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Anti-Korea/US FTA Events in DC

A 3-day series of events highlighting the opposition to Korea-US FTA included a public forum on 6/11 ("People's Forum on KORUS FTA: Fighting for Our Jobs, Health, Environment and Human Rights"), sponsored by Korean Americans for Fair Trade, AFL-CIO, Alliance for Responsible Trade, 50 Years is Enough Network, and a Congressional Lobby Day on 6/12, with participants from Korea, Seattle, San Francisco, Oregon, Vermont, New York, and Virginia. Related events were held in San Francisco (6/8-9) and in Harlem, New York City (6/14).

Five US Congressmen (Phil Hare, Michaud, Lipinsky, Braley, Walter Jones) spoke against the Korea-US FTA during the press conference at the Cannon House Building on 6/13, along with delegates from the Korean Alliance Against Korea-US FTA, Korean Confederation of Trade
Unions, Korean Government Employees Union, Korean Metal Workers Union, AFL-CIO and Korean Americans for Fair Trade. A Congressional briefing on the impact of Korea-US FTA took place following the press conference.