| Movements are coming together to resist GATS throughout May and to build upon the momentum to mobilize against the WTO General Council meeting and the Ministerial, series of bilateral FTAs* and the APEC Ministerial due to take place in November in Korea..... |
(photo: Anti-GATS Struggle Inauguration Press Conference, 12th May 2005, Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade)
29th April, 2005
Korean People’s Action against WTO & FTAs (KoPA)
In March 2003, the Korean government, despite strong struggles led by the teachers’ union and the education sector, submitted the first offers on GATS negotiations. As a result of the struggles, primary and secondary education was excluded from the offers on educational services. Also, the government did not make offers on healthcare and culture. However, it did include abolishing limit on foreign stock investment, and partly liberalized legal services. Finance and telecommunications were also included while foreign investment into new rail services was liberalized.
While emphasizing that it will play a much more active role in the ‘Friends’ group as well as pushing for the proposed ‘benchmark’ in services, the Korean government continues to be an ‘exemplary student’ of the WTO. It had already clearly stated that it will make second offers even before the deadline of May was set last year.
Although the results are yet to be seen, the government seems even more wary of resistance from movements, and it has said that it plans to leave out some of the more contentious public services, such as healthcare, water, energy and audio-visual services. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade (MOFAT) has said, in meetings with social organizations that the second offers will be relatively 'weak' this time, based on what has already been liberalized.
Indeed, during the last few years, the government had relentlessly promoted various liberalization measures on the national level – privatizing state infrastructure and commercializing public services. It had driven through laws promoting ‘Free Economic Zones’, which are expected to liberalize education and healthcare, as well as further flexiblize labour. This is the strategy of the Korean government – liberalizing public services through revision of national laws and then locking it into the non-refutable WTO regime. Moreover, the government is planning to establish an overall plan on services in October, aimed at restructuring and liberalizing. It is expected that, based on this plan, the government will take relevant measures on the national level, and then make a much 'stronger' 3rd offer in 2006.
However, people’s movements in Korea know all too well the government’s words that ‘it will not make any additional liberalization through GATS offers’ is the same as confirming that it will ‘take ALL measures to liberalize services through both national laws and the GATS’. Also, we know that the fundamental problem lies not just with submitting offers but with the WTO regime itself. Movements are coming together to resist GATS throughout May and to build upon the momentum to mobilize against the WTO General Council meeting and the Ministerial, series of bilateral FTAs* and the APEC Ministerial due to take place in November in Korea.
The Korean government is planning to submit the offers on 30th May. Relevant sectoral organizations and trade unions have met with relevant ministries, to find out what will be included in the offers and to convey concerns. These groups have also formed ‘Joint Struggle Committee against GATS’, which includes KoPA, KCTU, FKTU, Public Services Unions Solidarity, People’s Solidarity, Education Solidarity, Democratic Labour Party and other organizations. The Joint Struggle Committee will organize debates with government officials, protest visits to MOFAT, week of action from 23rd to 28th, and mass rallies on 28th and 30th May. Each sector – education, culture, healthcare, labour – will also mobilize sectoral declarations, and a press conference is due on 10th May to publicly announce the commencement of the struggles. END.
* "Joint Struggle Committee against WTO Services Negotiations" consists of...
All Together / Coalition for Cultural Diversity / Cultural Action / Democratic Labour Party / FKTU / KCTU / KoPA / Korean Education Solidarity / Korean Federation of Medical Groups for Health Rights / Korean Peoples Solidarity / Peoples Health Coalition / Public Sector Unions Solidarity (Public Services Union, Government Employees Union, Professors Union, Health Workers Union, Teachers Union, University Workers Union)
** The Korean government has announced that it will promote ‘multi-track’ FTAs. It is planning to consolidate FTAs with 30 different countries during the next 2-3 years, so that it won’t be left of out of the ‘race’. So far, Korea has FTAs with Chile and Singapore, is presently negotiating with Japan, EFTA and ASEAN. It plans to initiate FTAs with Canada, Mexico, India, Mercosur, US and various other countries within this year or next year.