Archive for January 16th, 2007

Fighting the FTA in Seoul

According to the NY Times, free trade agreement talks resumed yesterday in Seoul with a new urgency, with Washington hoping to resolve the issue before Bush’s special “fast-track” powers run out:

Under the fast-track mechanism, President Bush can submit an agreement deal to Congress for a straight yes-or-no vote. An agreement would have to go to Washington by the end of March because lawmakers would need to review it before a vote. After President Bush’s authority expires, however, the Congress — now controlled by the Democrats — can place amendments on the trade deal, crippling its chances of speedy ratification.

The talks have drawn out large numbers of protesters, who are opposed to opening up Korea’s market to a range of American goods. The most heated contention surrounds the free trade of agricultural products, including rice, pork, beef, and apples (Korea Times).

There have been major protests in the past in reaction to the FTA talks – over 60,000 came out last July in the pouring rain to show their vehement opposition.

If the Bush administration is successful in pushing the agreement on South Korea, I see this as a huge blow to the Korean economy. The idea of importing rice into one of the largest rice-producing nations is absolutely ludicrous; not only would it threaten the livelihood of Korean rice farmers, it’s also an utterly unneccesary waste of resources (i.e. fuel required for shipping). Korean beef farmers would also struggle. U.S. negotiators are also backing the opening up of the car market, hoping to see some more Fords on Korea’s roads, which could threaten Hyundai.

Seoul is already becoming a little too much like America – taking a ride through the heart of the city, one comes upon such “Anywhere USA” institutions as Tony Romas, TGI Fridays, Ruby Tuesdays, Outback, and so on. I understand that the issue is sticky – particularly given the Korean automobile presence in the U.S. But if President Roh is looking to boost the Korean economy (which should be his first priority), he needs to consider the farmers and factory workers, as well as the cultural value of keeping things local; the last thing Korea needs is American rice, mediocre automobiles, or – god forbid – outlandish SUVs.

(Additional Korean economy info @ Frog in a Well blog)

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