Korean bishops warn against US FTA

In a message for the Church's Farmers' Sunday this week, Korean bishops and farmers have warned against the destruction of the local farming sector as a result of a Free Trade Agreement with the US.

UCA News reports that Bishop Boniface Choi Ki-san, President of the Korean Catholic bishops' Committee for Justice and Peace, says in his message that the country desperately needs to make adjustments to ensure a "globalisation without marginalisation". The phrase comes from Pope John Paul II's message for the 1998 World Day of Peace.

Bishop Choi also urges the government to examine sincerely whether its policies respect farmers' rights. The government has invested lots of money to revive the agricultural sector but it has not shown its will to radically solve the difficulties farmers face, he says.

The bishop asserts that "globalisation and neoliberalism" threaten the imminent destruction of local farming communities through free trade agreements (FTAs).

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, South Korea signed FTAs with nine of the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in June 2006. Currently it is negotiating FTAs with several countries including the US.

Committee Secretary Fr John Lee Gi-woo told UCA News that the agricultural sector, especially rice production, is one of the most difficult issues in the FTA negotiations between South Korea and the US.

Fr Lee expects this agreement will have a strong, adverse affect on the local farming sector, even though he admits that an earlier FTA with Chile, a major farm-product exporter, "has had less influence" than expected.

Fr Augustine Yu Young-il, chaplain of the Korean Catholic Farmers' Movement said he is worried about "the Church hierarchy's low awareness of the crisis in agriculture and the risk involved" in FTAs.

The Korean Catholic Farmers' movement, which belongs to the International Catholic Farmers Movement (FIMARC), has campaigned extensively on food sovereignty and right to development issues.

Bishop Choi's message points out that the Church established Farmers' Sunday in 1995 in order to make Koreans, especially Catholics, aware of the importance of agriculture.

The Bishop describes agriculture as "the industry of life" that supplies so many "common benefits." Similarly, "rice is the life of the Korean people and the sovereignty of the nation," he says in the message, urging that the value of agriculture not be judged only by market principles.

Church asks government to help farmers facing globalization (Indian Catholic 10/7/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
International Catholic Farmers Movement (FIMARC)
FIMARC Declaration (13/5/06)
Korea: International meeting of Catholic farmers (Columbans 22/5/06)
FIMARC Statement on the Right to Development (UN ECOSOC, 6/2/02)
Korean farmers (Wikipedia)

11 Jul 2006