Protests at U.S.-Korea trade talks
The beef with U.S. beef imports
Published Dec 5, 2006 9:54 PM
speaks on his
trip to S. Korea
at Dec. 1 forum
The fifth round of negotiations on the Korea-U.S. Free Trade
Agreement (KorUS FTA) took place in Montana on Dec. 4 to 8. It is
projected to be the largest trade agreement since NAFTA. But
critics say the KorUS FTA will economically and socially
devastate the lives of millions of workers and farmers in both
South Korea now ranks as the seventh-largest trading partner of
the U.S. If the KorUS FTA passes, U.S. agricultural exports to
South Korea will increase more than 200 percent, with other
exports increasing by 54 percent. South Korean imports to the
U.S., on the other hand, will increase by only 21 percent.
Conditions imposed on this agreement by the U.S. have set off
mass protests in South Korea. These U.S. conditions include
lifting price controls on pharmaceuticals, which will
disproportionately impact the poor and elders; reduction of the
film-screen quota, which would impose more U.S. films on Korea
and has already spurred some of the first anti-FTA protests by
Korean actors; and loosening Korean regulations on auto emissions
from imported U.S. cars.
One of the most hotly contested U.S. conditions is the lifting of
the 2003 South Korean ban on the importation of U.S. beef,
imposed after the outbreak of “mad cow” disease in
Koreans protest KorUS FTA
at Big Sky resort in Montana, Dec. 4.
Since a public announcement about this agreement in February, a
bloc between the Korean Alliance Against Korea-U.S. FTA
(KoA)—a South Korean coalition of more than 280
organizations—and Korean Americans against War And
Neo-liberalism (KAWAN) was formed to mobilize internationally to
stop the KorUS FTA. Part of the strategy has been to hound the
negotiators by calling week-long protests in cities where the
talks are being held.
When the first round of talks was held in June in Washington,
D.C., farmers, workers and anti-war activists from South Korea
joined with labor unionists and anti-globalization activists from
the U.S. to hold protest marches and other actions against the
Protests against the second round of talks in July in Seoul,
South Korea, brought out over 100,000 people into the
In Seattle, a week of third-round talks was interrupted by a
direct action on Sept. 9 in which 15 demonstrators were arrested
at the Washington Trade and Convention Center, the site of the
As a result of these protests, the U.S. and South Korean
governments were forced to hold the fourth round of talks on Jae
Ju Island at the southern tip of Korea.
Just as the 1999 World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting took place
high up in the Alps in Davos, Switzerland, the fifth round of
talks—which was originally rumored to be planned for
Washington, D.C.—was later rescheduled to convene at the
exclusive and secluded ski resort of Big Sky, Mont.
This move outraged activists and even inconvenienced the Korean
FTA negotiators themselves, who had to take three airplane
flights and a two-hour bus ride, traveling over 24 hours to get
to the ski resort.
In the heart of U.S. beef country
The choice of Montana by the U.S. government was a strategic one.
According to the National Cattlemen’s Association,
Montana’s beef industry represents a major economic
activity in the state’s economy.
Big Sky Ski Resort was the site of the July 2005 FTA talks
between the U.S. and Thailand.
Montana Sen. Max Baccus, a Democrat with a long record of support
for FTA agreements, sent an invite to the Korean government to
host the talks back in 1999. Baccus, whose family has been cattle
ranchers for six generations, will take over as chair of the U.S.
Senate Finance Committee in January.
According to the Dec. 4 issue of the Korean newspaper “The
Hankyoreh,” the U.S. is applying “pressure for South
Korea to further open its beef market for U.S. imports; beef is
Montana’s flagship industry.”
Baccus—while digging into a Montana-raised T-bone
steak—said to reporters, “I have a beef with Korea.
Our beef is the safest, highest quality in the world and Korea
should open its market fully as soon as possible.” (AP,
Since 2003, U.S. beef imports have been banned from the South
Korean market. But through the KorUS FTA talks, there was an
easing off of restrictions this September. Korea now accepts beef
from cattle less than 30 months old, but continues to prohibit
beef fed bone material that could carry mad cow disease.
The U.S. has not lived up to its end of the deal. The Korea Times
reported on Dec. 4 that “[O]fficials said they found three
bone fragments in the 3.2 tons of beef from a slaughterhouse in
Nebraska, following a similar discovery in beef from Kansas in
October. The government plans to return or discard the latest
imports, as Seoul had agreed to buy only ‘boneless’
The Korean Times continued, “Recent reports say a dozen
cases of mad cow disease have been found in cattle younger than
30 months as well as in red meat, meaning import limits by age or
parts have their own limits.”
Currently, the U.S. livestock industry tests only about 1 percent
of every 100,000 cattle slaughtered daily, and reportedly plans
to reduce this percentage to 0.11 percent. The U.S. government is
even discouraging voluntary testing by slaughterhouses.
Part of every anti-FTA protest in South Korea has included
protesters dressed as cows, or carrying placards with images of
cows, to send a clear message that tainted beef from the U.S. is
a huge concern.
More than 170,000 workers, farmers and anti-war activists took to
the streets in 13 cities in South Korea on Nov. 22. These
demonstrations coincided with a general strike called by the
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.
The protests were met with severe police repression and brutality
in the cities of Gwangju and Daejeon. The following day, the
South Korean government banned all further anti-FTA
demonstrations and issued 85 arrest warrants for leaders of
worker, farmer and anti-war groups, raiding nine offices of
However, what was supposed to be a deterrent to the anti-FTA
movement in South Korea has ignited a firestorm of protest. Once
again on Nov. 29, tens of thousands of people came out for
another anti-FTA demonstration.
South Korean organizers project outrage against the government
repression will turn out even larger numbers for the Dec. 6
anti-FTA demonstration during the fifth round of talks in
Protesting at Big Sky
Likewise, neither arrest warrants, several inches of snow or the
cold Montana weather have hampered the militant resolve of the
activists who traveled to Big Sky, Mont. Activists have come from
South Korea and from cities in the U.S., including New York,
Seattle, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., to join with Montana
activists to say “No!” to the KorUS FTA.
Defying local officials, activists held a media conference on the
morning of Dec. 4 outside the front doors of the Yellowstone
Convention Center, the site of the talks.
Later that afternoon more than 50 activists participated in a
rally at City Hall in Bozeman, Mont.
Young Choe, an organizer with KAWAN and the Manhattan-based group
Nodutdol for Korean Development, said, “The myth is KorUS
Free Trade Agreement would benefit Montana farmers, but the
reality is that it will only benefit U.S. corporations like Tyson
and Cargill. Today on the first day of the protest, small farmers
from both Montana and Korea stood in solidarity against
More activists are scheduled to travel to Big Sky throughout the
week to participate in rallies, marches, candlelight vigils and
To support the protests and for updates on the struggle at Big
Sky, check out kawanlist.blogspot.com.
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