On Saturday afternoon, the Trade Justice Working Group at Occupy Wall Street held a “teach-in” on the much-contested Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. The U.S. Congress approved the agreement on October 12,2011, but the National Assembly in South Korea has yet to provide legislative approval. Occupy Seoul and other concerned citizens have been critical of this agreement for quite some time.
Sukjong Hong from Korean Americans for Fair Trade spoke to the crowd gathered in Zuccoti Park:
“Now the people in South Korea have been fighting the FTA in the streets since 2007… And now, everyday in Seoul, Occupy Seoul has been in the streets’thousands and thousands of people from farmers to workers to students’and they have been beaten. They have been sprayed with water. And they have faced surveillance. They are successfully blocking the vote…Right now it is up to them and it is also up to us to stop the FTA. If the South Korean National Assembly doesn’t pass it, it cannot go through.”
Curtis Ellis, from the American Jobs Alliance also spoke ” These agreements like the Korea- U.S. Free Trade Agreement, are not about trade, they are about protecting the rights of investors on Wall Street, so they can exploit workers anywhere in the world.”
Recently, “the WTO ruled that we cannot know where our food comes from,”he said. The “people’s mic at OWS echoed his words:
“They [the WTO] said a label that says this food was grown in the U.S. is illegal. They said this because the international food processors want to raise cattle in Mexico, grind it into hamburgers, irradiate it so it can stay on the shelf for three months, and sell it in the U.S. And they don’t want you to know where your food comes from. That’s what these so-called free trade agreements are really about.”
Christina Schiavoni from the US Food Sovereignty Alliance spoke more about food and how our future is linked to the people fighting on streets in South Korea. “How many people here eat?” she asked the crowd. Prior to this teach-in, there was an Occupy Big Food event, which drew attention to the fact that our food system is controlled by a handful of corporations. “Ninety percent of the global grain trade is controlled by three corporations,” she said. These free trade agreements will only facilitate and expand corporate agribusiness.
Anna Maria Quispe, a dietician, added “Many people don’t know that free trade agreements also bring hunger, cancer, diseases, and malnutrition” Adam Weissman from Global Justice for Animals and the Environment spoke about the detrimental impacts of free trade agreements on the environment and animal welfare.
“Family farmers, food workers, indigenous people, and eaters are calling for a different system based on food sovereignty,” Christina Schianvoni said. Instead of globalizing the food system, they have a different slogan: “Globalize the struggle! Globalize the Hope!”
There will be an International Day of Solidarity on November 22, 2011 on this issue.
UPDATE: Despite massive opposition, The Korean Nationally Assembly approved the FTA. From the New York Times:
Lawmakers of the governing Grand National Party caught the opposition by surprise by calling a snap plenary session. Opposition legislators rushed in but were too late to prevent their rivals from putting the bill to a vote.
Photo by Sangu Iyer