Labor party leader on hunger strike against free trade agreement with US

Yonhap | 2007/03/23

Labor party leader on hunger strike against free trade agreement with U.S.

SEOUL, March 23 (Yonhap) — A weary yet defiant looking labor party leader has been a fixture in front of the president’s office for more than two weeks, on a hunger strike against South Korea’s imminent free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States.

The fasting by Moon Sung-hyun, head of the Democratic Labor Party, entered its 16th day on Friday, as South Korean and U.S. officials said the formal deal is within reach.

"I began this hunger strike as a desperate effort" to foil the pact’s signing, Moon said, proposing one-on-one talks with President Roh Moo-hyun.

"The president is on the vanguard of neo-liberalism coercing the FTA, which I believe only stands for ’For the Americans.’ And I am on the top of the progressive forces thwarting the FTA, which is pushed without undergoing democratic procedures and will provide little actual benefit to us."

Aides said Moon lost about 7kg but he was in a relatively stable condition.

About 800 party colleagues and anti-FTA activists have so far visited Moon to cheer him up and stage joint protests.

In recent weeks, opposition to the trade pact have grown here, as South Korean and U.S. officials were engaged in last-minute efforts to sign the deal before the end-of-the March deadline.

Proponents say the stakes are high for the two countries, which did US$74 billion in two-way trade in 2006, citing some studies showing that a deal would boost total annual trade by 20 percent. Critics, however, have argued the pact would threaten the livelihoods of South Korean farmers, laborers and other workers.

Last week, a group of 38 South Korean lawmakers issued a joint statement vowing to reject the FTA deal, even if it is signed by the South Korean and U.S. administrations. The deal requires approval from the South Korean parliament.

"A handful of negotiators are handling important issues directly linked to all the people’s livelihoods — that is an anti-legislative, anti-democratic scene that nullifies the functions of legislature," the joint statement said.

U.S. President George W. Bush’s "fast-track" trade promotion authority expires on July 1. That authority allows for a yes-or-no vote with no amendments, but requires that U.S. trade negotiators give Congress 90 days to review the pact. March 30 is the last working day before the deadline.

source: Yonhap