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Korea's Anti-FTA Movement Could Produce
Next President
[Opinion] A pan-progressive alternative to the Uri party and the conservatives
Yoo Seung-gi (poppingp)     Print Article 
Published 2007-03-29 15:56 (KST)   
Three political leaders joined the "wave of hunger strikes" in a bid to stop the ongoing negotiations on the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. Those include former Justice Minister Chun Jung-bae, former Uri Party Chairman Kim Geun-tae and former member of the conservative opposition Grand National Party (GNP) Im Jong-in. The chairman of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) Moon Seong-hyun was the first political leader to begin a hunger strike some three weeks ago.

Representative Im and DLP chairman Moon have vehemently opposed the free trade deal between Seoul and Washington for a long time while Kim and Chun, former cabinet members, had agreed to the negotiation on the free trade accord. The GNP's spokeswoman Na Kyung-won urged the ex-cabinet members to end their hunger strikes, which she called "political showmanship" to win votes in an upcoming presidential election.

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Meanwhile, the DLP members, including representatives Shim Sang-chung, Lee Hoe-chan and Kwon Young-gil, visited the strikers inside and outside of the National Assembly building, encouraging them to make every effort together with other DLP members to put a halt to FTA talks immediately. Despite this show of support, many political groups and government officials have criticized the hunger strikers.

Using the Election as an Opportunity to Realize the Will of the General Public Against FTA

The main goal of politicians is to come to power with the support of the general public. Despite the fact that politicians have a "second nature" of ignoring public opinion after coming to power, elections are still a powerful tool to urge the politicians to pay attention to the voters' opinion.

Even though Kim and Chun agreed to the KOR-U.S. FTA talks in the past, they turned their position on the deal from positive to negative. As a cabinet member it is not easy to run counter to the government's foreign policies.

The public backing for the hunger strikers will be both a fatal blow to the pro-FTA forces and a warm message of encouragement to anti-FTA activists and politicians. In this case, the other presidential candidates that now enjoy a high popularity from the public will join the anti-FTA movement whether they originally agreed to the FTA between Seoul and Washington or not.

Virtual Image of Bilateral Free Trade Agreement

Then, why should Koreans oppose the KOR-U.S. Free Trade Agreement? I will outline my opinion about the reason in a simple way. The FTA talks between Seoul and Washington are about a bilateral free trade agreement, that is a free trade accord between two countries. When two boxers fight in the square ring, there should always be a winner and a loser. Everybody knows that the U.S. economy is the most powerful one in the world like a heavyweight champion while the Korean economy is a lightweight champion or runner-up. Any lightweight boxer can not beat the heavyweight world champion in the game except for a miracle occurring. The Korean government seems to hope that a miracle would happen with the free trade deals.

Second, the FTA is not even related to globalization. The FTA talks between two countries always exclude the other countries in the global economic circles.

Even though the World Trade Organization (WTO) system has many side effects which have a bad influence on most of the globe's citizens, the Third World countries can be united within the WTO regime against the "bad" globalization that has been proposed by the First World countries. On the contrary, within the one-on-one KOR-U.S. FTA system, the Korean economy will never bring together the supporting forces such as the Third World countries against the unbalanced demands from more powerful ones.

After concluding the free trade deal with the U.S., Korean companies can not survive the fierce competition with the U.S. transnational corporations (TNCs) whereas few of Korea's TNCs such as Samsung Electronics Co. will win the race in the market. The employees with the small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) will be in trouble with economic distress and massive layoffs because the SMEs will lose the competition with the U.S.-based TNCs. There is no other way right now but to stop the deal or not to ratify the accord through the National Assembly.

From Anti-FTA Forces to Pan-Progressive Coalition

In the run-up to the December presidential election, many lawmakers have bolted from the Uri Party which symbolizes the split of progressive forces. The sinking popularity of President Roh Moo-hyun and the Uri Party will spur many more members to leave the party in the coming months.

Furthermore, the disillusionment with the progressive forces is expected to force many floating votes to flow into the conservative GNP candidates, casting a shadow on the progressive candidate's chance of winning the presidential election.

However, there is one more chance left to bring together the divided pro-progressive voters and regain trust and support from the disillusioned general public. When anti-FTA forces can be united for the common goal of opposing the FTA talks, they can restore their trust and support from the public and persuade many floating voters to cast a vote in favor of them. For the "grand cause" of anti-FTA, pan-progressive forces can be formed which will strengthen the winning opportunity in the upcoming presidential election.

It may sound absurd to form a pan-progressive coalition out of the anti-FTA movement. However, many individuals, politicians and social activists are opposed to the KOR-U.S. FTA agreement and splits among progressive forces are growing much more severe. Amid the conditions that there are no reliable presidential candidates on the progressive side, the coalition of influential politicians for the anti-FTA movement would enable people to ease their disillusionment toward the progressives.

If the anti-FTA movement can raise interest and support from civil society including civic groups, labor unions, student unions and religious groups, it would be a good reward for the progressive forces as well as the hunger strikers.
©2007 OhmyNews

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