KORUS FTA public hearing descends into chaos

Meeting scuttled following fierce protests from farmers


By Choi Ha-yan, The Hankyoreh (S.Korea)



“The administration said it was going to minimize damage to the farming and livestock industries back when it started FTA negotiations with the US. How are things five years later [after the agreement took effect]? Rice and Korean beef prices have all plummeted. We’re not going to be tricked by another formality of a public hearing.”


Thirty minutes in, the public hearing on negotiations to amend the South Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) descended into chaos, with shouts echoing through the conference room at Seoul’s COEX center on Nov. 10. The event was hampered – and finally scuttled – by fierce objections from agricultural group’s members to the administration’s hearing process.


Yet the administration concluded that enough of a hearing had been held to meet the conditions according to the Act on the Conclusion Procedure and Implementation of Commercial Treaties. The plan is to finish domestic procedures for the renegotiations with a report shortly to the National Assembly – but the agriculture and livestock industries are up in arms.


The commotion around the COEX conference room started before the hearing was opened at 9:30 am. The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) barred access to “those who did not submit a prior application to attend” – excluding from an FTA response committee members from the Korean Peasants League and Korean Women Peasant Association, as well as members from the Korea Dairy & Beef Farmers Association, Korea Pork Producers Association, Korea Poultry Association, and Korean Native Chicken Association. Prevented from entering, the members protested to the lines of security personnel standing before the closed doors. “We’re stakeholders in this amendment,” they showed. “How can we not get to watch the hearing?”


With the hearing starting in chaos, the administration’s announcement was scant. An explanation on the FTA amendment’s pursuit took up roughly half of the 30-page materials provided by MOTIE. No mention at all was made of the potential damages – or measures to prevent them – from the loosening or abolition on non-tariff barriers and additional beef and farm product market openness that the US is likely to demand.


“We sent a discussion statement to the administration three days ago, and it wasn’t even printed in the book,” said one debate participant. Some farmers protested by hurling eggs and shoes.


Members of farming and livestock industry groups kept up their protest of the hearing for around two hours, chanting...