Thursday, April 12, 2007

Korean Cab Driver Self Immolates to Protest Free Trade Agreement

In early April, A South Korean cab driver set himself on fire in protest of the new free trade agreement between the United States and South Korea. The trade agreement, opposed by most Koreans according to a recent poll, would have a negative impact on working class Americans as well argues Christine Ahn, a policy analyst with the Korea Policy Institute and the national coordinator of Korean Americans for Fair Trade.
On April 1, as trade negotiators from the United States and South Korea were finalizing a trade agreement, 54-year-old taxicab driver Heo Seowook poured 1.5 liters of gasoline on his body and set himself on fire outside the Hyatt Hotel in Seoul. His body engulfed in flames, he screamed, “Stop the Korea-U.S. FTA negotiations!” Heo’s sacrifice didn’t stop negotiators from signing the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (Korus FTA). Although this FTA is poised to reshape the landscape of South Korea and become the United States’ second largest trade deal after NAFTA, Americans have heard virtually nothing about it. The few times it has been discussed, trade ministers have framed it as a commercial agreement that will make trade between countries easier by eliminating complicated government codes and regulations that stifle innovation and commerce. But this generic and abstract appeal breaks down as soon as we get into the specifics of how corporate interests will use the FTA in ways that will dramatically influence the lives of ordinary Americans and Koreans. The agreement will eliminate major industries and jobs in both countries while emboldening the rights of corporations to undermine public laws meant to protect ordinary workers, farmers and the disadvantaged. Take, for example, access to medicine. South Korea has a universal healthcare system that reimburses people for medicine on a “preferred drug list,” largely generics and lower priced drugs. Wendy Cutler, the chief U.S. negotiator, has argued that this system “would end up discriminating against and limiting the access of Korean patients and doctors to the most innovative drugs in the world.” More

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