Monday, June 30, 2008

The KCTU Launches a General Strike Against the Announcement of South Korean government on April 18 Protocol on US beef [kctu power]

On June 25th, the KCTU Central Executive Committee voted to launch an unlimited General Strike to support the South Korean people’s movement against the government’s announcement to import U.S. beef as stipulated in the Protocol of April 18.

Upon immediately taking office, Lee Myung Bak rushed to make an agreement on import health requirements for US beef in order to promote the ratification process of KORUS FTA without any consultation with concerned parties including trade unions, peasants groups and civil society. With the publicity of agreement on the April 18 Protocol, South Korean people began to raise concerns about the safety of the U.S. beef that would be imported to South Korea. These concerns would galvanize into mass demonstrations in the form of candle light vigils that was attended by all sectors of South Korean society deeply concerned about the safety of the food put on their table. More importantly, South Koreans became increasingly angry over the indifferent attitude of the new government under the administration of Lee Myung Bak who refused to acknowledge the concerns of the people. His actions were reminiscent of “authoritarian-like” acts conducted under previous dictatorships and conservative governments. Since the agreement was announced, candlelight vigils and rallies have taken place on an almost daily basis. Especially, on June 10th, more than one million people gathered to protest against the April 18 protocol and other 'business-friendly' policies of the new government including privatization.

Due to the huge demonstration, the government had to postpone the announcement of April 18 Protocol and conduct additional consultation with the US government. According to the USTR News, "the June 13-19 discussions in Washington, led by Ambassador Schwab and Trade Minister Kim, focused on ways to facilitate the commercial, private-sector agreement between Korean importers and U.S. exporters to ship U.S. beef from animals less than 30-months for a transitional period until consumer confidence in South Korea improves. To support these voluntary commitments, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will establish, once the import protocol is in force, the "Less than 30 Month Age-Verification Quality System Assessment (QSA) Program for Korea" administered by the U.S. government under the Agricultural Marketing Act. This program will verify that all beef shipped to Korea under the program is from cattle less than 30 months of age."

The contents of the beef deal that the government will notify to the public in an official gazette on the 26th regarding is exactly the same as what it had planned to make public last month. The only difference is the 3 supplementary provisions that were the result of the April 18th additional consultations. These added provisions state that 1) 'the two government support the transitional voluntary measures through the verification quality system assessment regarding less than 30 month age" cows, 2) that brains, eyes, skull bones, and spines will not be imported if importing firms do not put in orders for them, and that 3) regarding on-site inspections, the South Korean government can add beef processing sites that it judges to be necessary to the inspection list. Ultimately, the intestines, AMR, crushed meat, spine bones, leg bones, tail bones, and tongues, all previously denied release into domestic markets, will be imported without restrictions.

Regarding quarantine authority, the approval and revoking rights for export processing plants remains with the American government, and finally, there is no mention of regulating animal feed. This means that none of the concerns that have been raised so far have been properly addressed. Moreover, there are significant discrepancies between the South Korean government's announcement of the negotiation result and the American government's letter regarding it, adding fuel to the speculation that the South Korean government has intentionally 'gift-wrapped' the contents of the consultations in order to press ahead with the notification process and also to take the momentum away from further candlelight protests.

First of all, the U.S. government's letter has characterized the recent additional consultations not as a 'negotiation' but as 'discussions' between the two trade representatives to facilitate transitional measures based on commercial understanding. This means that the results of the talks are not binding. Furthermore, although the South Korean authorities have announced that import of the brains, eyes, spines, and skull bones have been 'stopped,' the U.S. letter states solely that "There have been no transaction up to the present regarding the brains, eyes, spines, and skull bones, for which no demand exists in Korea. We confirm the expectation that such commercial practices will continue." It seems clear that 'additional negotiations' were just a means to buy time so that the popular resentment at the international trade system, which does not allow the people access to the means to control the safety of the very food they eat.

Nevertheless, the government has disregarded the demands of the people for their right to healthy food and the defense of the country's sovereignty regarding inspections. It has instead focused on putting out the candles. The government announced the results of the additional negotiations on the 21st, and has pushed forward with notification on the 26th. This is equal to neglecting the basic rights of the people. It is also commensurate to a declaration by the Lee Myung-bak government that it is not willing to represent the will of the people, and that it is solely interested in constructing a market fundamentalist system, for the benefit of 1% of the privileged class of the population.

The KCTU has gone on a general strike to support the people's right to their health and the candlelight demonstrations, and also to oppose the privatization drive and neo-liberal policies of the Lee Myung-bak government. Taking into account the urgent nature of the situation, the KCTU's general strike will commence with those workplaces that are able to immediately commence on collective action, and the current plan is to progressively extend it to other federations and industrial unions.

Lee Changgeun
International Executive Director
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions
Tel.: +82-2-2670-9234 Fax: +82-2-2635-1134
E-mail: Web-site :
2nd Fl. Daeyoung Bld., 139 Youngdeungpo-2-ga, Youngdeungpo-ku, Seoul 150-032 Korea

1 comment:

sam59527 said...