[THE INVESTOR] A group of protesting local farmers took over Seoul’s public hearing on the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement on Friday morning, demanding the Seoul government terminate the agreement.
Ahead of trade revision talks on the KORUS FTA between Washington and Seoul, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy was to hold the public hearing at Coex in Seoul, in accordance with the FTA amendment negotiation procedures to collect public opinion on the trade deal.
The hearing was intended to include a short government presentation on its economic feasibility study as well as a panel of experts discussing how renegotiations will affect the local economy, prior to hearing questions and comments from members of the public.
However, the event came to a halt after a handful of farmers stormed into the venue wearing red head bands that read “terminate KORUS immediately.” Standing on tables, the protesters said the government’s feasibility study inaccurately represents the country’s struggling farming sector and the increased agriculture imports from the US threaten their livelihood.
The heated debate even lead to a number of violent outbursts by the protesters, who further warned that lowering tariffs on US agricultural products add to the devastation of local farmers.
“Eighty to 90 percent of the food you people are consuming on a daily basis is imported,” said one of the protesters. “Do you think that is right?”
“This is not an issue to be dealt with among farmers, this is a national issue,” the protester added.
The ministry said it would take into consideration remarks made by members of the public and would notify its intention to renegotiate the FTA to the National Assembly by the end of the month. Its report to parliament would conclude Korea’s procedural steps to begin revision talks with Washington.
However, according to Song Ki-ho, a lawyer at MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society, the hearing did not meet the legal definition of conducting a public forum on the FTA, from the start.
A public hearing refers to the procedure by which the administrative agency collects opinions widely from any public person or through public discussion. But the hearing that was supposed to be held Friday was not sufficient to collect ideas from various walks of society, as it was more like a seminar.
“This proceeding cannot be regarded as a practical and legitimate public hearing under the Administrative Procedure Act,” the statement said. “The public hearing of the Administrative Procedure Act is not a place to announce the research studies of an administration, this is not an academic seminar.”
Following the conclusion of the hearing, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy released a statement saying it would establish a plan to conclude its KORUS preparations in accordance with Article 6 of the Trade Procedures Act and would report its stance to the National Assembly, “reflecting the results of the public hearing and its economic feasibility study.”
“In the future, we will continue to collect opinions on the revision of the KORUS FTA by various stakeholders,” the statement said. “In particular, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs will jointly hold a meeting on the agricultural and livestock industries as soon as possible in order to collect additional opinions these sectors.”
Prior to the hearing, the Ministry of Trade released an economic feasibility study, which argued revisions to KORUS would have little impact on the Korean economy as the two have already eliminated tariffs in many trade sectors. The study was jointly conducted by the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy, the Korea Institute for Industrial Economic & Trade and the Korea Rural Economic Institute.
According to the study, a low level of market openness would increase 0.0004 percent of the real gross domestic product in Korea, with consumer welfare increasing by $12 million, while a high level of market openness would add 0.0007 percent to economy and increase $24 million in consumer welfare.
The study did not disclose detailed figures on each of the country’s trading sectors to avoid revealing Korea’s negotiation strategies, the Trade Ministry said.
By Julie Jackson/ The Korea Herald (email@example.com)