Thursday, May 10, 2007

I Wonder Why?

Why Are the Anti-FTA Protesters so Quiet?

On June 3 last year, three days before the first round of Korea-U.S. free trade negotiations opened, 1,300 anti-FTA protesters held a rally at the Jongmyo Shrine in downtown Seoul. Some 40 anti-FTA demonstrators went to the U.S. to oppose the trade talks, waving banners and took to the streets. Eleven months later, Korea started the first round of free trade talks with the EU on Monday. But there were no big anti-FTA protests in Seoul during the negotiating period. About 20 anti-FTA protesters gathered and called for the cancellation of the trade talks in front of the Shilla Hotel, the negotiating venue, on Monday morning, but that was all. Seoul Metropolitan Police said no anti-FTA rallies were reported.

Anti-FTA protesters just held press conferences and issued statement. Even the notorious lawmaker Chun Jung-bae, who staged a 25-day hunger strike against the trade treaty with the U.S., welcomed trade talks saying an FTA with the European bloc will be in Korea’s interest. Of course, it is welcome that anti-FTA protesters express their opinions in a reasonable way such as a press conference rather than massive rallies. Still, the question remains: what made them change their attitude?

Despite differences in detail, trade talks are trade talks and will require Korea to reduce tariffs and open its market. Indeed, an FTA with the EU could have a bigger impact on the Korean economy than one with the U.S., since the EU’s average tariff rate is higher than the U.S.’ On my way to the Shilla Hotel to cover the talks, my taxi driver said, “Why are they so quiet this time? They were noisy when trade talks with the U.S. were going on.” Many people must have the same question. Did they in fact just oppose a trade pact with the U.S. due to anti-American sentiment?

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