Farmers in Seoul protest free trade talks with China
Thousands of farmers descended on Seoul yesterday to protest against the latest round of free trade talks between South Korea and China saying that a deal would devastate the country’s agriculture industry.
Some 15,000 farmers joined the demonstration on the same day officials from Seoul and Beijing started a second round of discussions – due to end tomorrow – on Jeju Island.
Many protesters said the deal meant that the South Korean government was prepared to boost sales of electronics and cars in China at the expense of the farming industry, which would be undercut by cheaper products as a result of a free-trade deal with the world’s second-largest economy.
“Our agriculture will likely be sentenced to death,” Anastasia Sin Soon-jae, vice president of the Korea Catholic Farmers’ Movement (CCFM), said today.
“Fresh vegetables from China can arrive in South Korea in a day [across the Yellow Sea],” she added.
The manager of CCFM, Joe Chang-hwan, said that organic farming practiced by 700 of its members since the 1990s would be badly affected by a trade deal with China.
Demonstrators said such an agreement would be worse for farming than a similar deal with the US, which came into effect in January after prompting similar protests.
The South Korean government has said that an end to trade barriers with China would spur economic growth by between 0.95 and 1.25 percent five years after it takes effect.
But its own Korea Institute for International Economic Policy reported previously that a free trade deal could cost the domestic agriculture industry US$2.8 billion in revenues as cheaper Chinese imports flood the country.
Agriculture Minister Suh Kyu-yong said recently it will take between two and three years to finally sign a trade agreement with China, adding that his office would create a long-term plan to help the country's three million farmers prepare for an influx of cheap produce.
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