Tell Obama, Bush’s Agreements Aren’t Good Enough!

Stop the failed “free” trade model! The Obama administration has set the goal of finalizing the US free trade agreement with South Korea before the G20 Summit to be held in Seoul on November 11th. Unfortunately, this is the same agreement that was negotiated with Bush and does not take into account any of Obama’s campaign promises. Please helps us to oppose this free trade agreement with Korea, so that we can send a message to the administration that this is a failed model and should not be the standard they set for their future trade policies. Bush’s agreements simply are not good enough! We cannot let this agreement set the tone for upcoming debates on Panama and Colombian free trade agreements.

Please copy and paste the following letter to your Senators and Representatives. Also consider sending it to the White House. You can find contact information here for Congress and here for the White House.

Dear [name],

In 2007, 48 civil society groups issued a declaration demanding that specific improvements be made to the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KOR-US FTA) and the process of its implementation, which was then being negotiated between the Bush administration and the government of South Korea. Three years later, despite the fact that not a single one of these demands were met, the Obama administration wants Congress to pass the Bush-era FTA by November. In light of this, I am writing to you to express my opposition to the proposed KOR-US FTA and urge you to reject this agreement if it comes before Congress.

I believe that the current trade model, which so far has provided enormous benefits for a disproportionate few, will not likely generate widely shared economic prosperity for the majority of persons in the U.S. and South Korea. Moreover, I fear that a renegotiation or acceptance of this agreement that does not affirmatively respond to each of the points below raised in 2007, will merely perpetuate this damaging model. Indeed, it would likely open the door to similar agreements in Colombia and Panama, where even more grave issues of egregious human rights violations and union oppression exist.

The previous declaration made by civil society emphasized the importance of maintaining public interest gains without narrowing the policy space of governments to respond to the needs or wants of their citizens. I wholly embrace economic and cultural relations with South Korea, but wish to make certain that the terms of that relationship are equitable to all.

In evaluating this trade agreement, I was guided by the following principles, set forth in the 2007 declaration:

    Democracy, Transparency and Accountability:

Trade agreements must be negotiated under democratic mechanisms with broad-based citizen participation including workers, women, and indigenous and ethnic groups. This was not the case. The draft text, member country proposals, and negotiating agendas should be made available to civil society at regular and timely intervals in order for civil society participation to be meaningful. This did not occur. Negotiators should also meet with civil-society groups before each negotiating session, in order to discuss the proposals being advanced, and afterwards in order to report back on the results of those talks. This was not the case. Trade agreements must be subject to regularly scheduled environmental and social reviews by an independent body, which include an evaluation of the agreement’s impact on workers, women, people of color and indigenous communities. Final language of KORUS FTA does not include this. Any dispute arising under the agreement must be resolved in an accountable and transparent manner, with due deference to domestic laws and court systems. Trade disputes must be open to the public, and accept submissions from interested outside parties. The KORUS FTA final language does not include this.

    Workers’ Rights:

Any trade agreement with Korea must ensure that all workers can freely exercise their basic rights as laid out by the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work: freedom of association, the right to organize and bargain collectively, to refuse forced labor, to reject child labor, and to work free from discrimination. These rights must be recognized and protected in trade agreements and covered by dispute resolution and effective enforcement mechanisms. These mechanisms do not exist in the KORUS FTA. Any trade agreement with the region must also ensure that immigrant workers’ rights are protected fully regardless of their status. This is not the case. Technical assistance to improve labor standards in Korea can complement, but not substitute for, enforceable rules on workers’ rights. This issue is not addressed in the KORUS FTA. Finally, a trade agreement with Korea must include adequate protections and transitional assistance for rural and urban workers and farmers in Korea and the United States who are adversely affected by increased trade. This is not the case.

    Protecting Family Farms:

No free trade agreement should prevent countries from establishing their own domestic agricultural policies that promote food sovereignty, appropriate for their particular economic conditions, geographic characteristics and cultural practices and beliefs. This agreement would limit both South Korea’s and the U.S.’s control over their domestic agricultural policy. Trade agreements must not interfere with the ability of countries to prohibit dumping of agricultural products that undermine the well being of family farmers and rural communities. This is not the case. Farmers’ livelihoods will be left at the whim of large agribusiness interests unless exporting countries of major commodities take the lead in establishing price floors to assure fair commodity prices worldwide and establish strategic international reserves to ensure food security. This point is not addressed. These mechanisms are necessary to prevent the pricing and export of commodities by agribusiness corporations at below a farmers’ cost of production. Countries must be allowed the flexibility to establish tariffs and appropriate types of subsidies to prevent a total collapse of rural economies and mass migration. The KORUS FTA would preclude this.

    Environmental Protection and Natural Resources:

Trade agreements must not undermine any environmental standards but strengthen and enforce them. This is not the case. Trade rules must ensure that private investors cannot challenge domestic environmental and other public interest laws and regulations before international tribunals. The KORUS FTA does allow private investors to sue. Agreements should also reinforce governments’ responsibility to protect and promote farmer rights regarding plant genetic resources for food and agriculture as stated in the Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, including not limiting any rights that farmers have to save, use, exchange or sell seeds and other propagating material as afforded to them by national laws. This is not the case.

    Protecting Basic Services:

Services that help meet people’s right to food, education, health and basic utilities, should be exempt from trade rules. This is not the case. In Korea there is deep concern that applying trade rules to these services, especially public services, would make it harder for governments to adequately support and regulate these services, resulting in price increases that are prohibitive to consumers, reduced access and compromised quality.

    Foreign Investment and National Development:

Investment rules must afford governments the leeway to implement legitimate economic development strategies for domestically oriented growth, especially to promote decent employment, to support domestic industries and investment, and to encourage the emergence of new and infant industries. The agreement does not afford this leeway. Investors must have binding responsibilities including compliance with international and national labor and environmental standards not just rights. This is not the case. Governments must have the authority to regulate capital flows in order to prevent and redress financial crises. This is not the case. Finally, investor-to-state lawsuits must not be part of trade agreements. This is not the case.

    Intellectual Property Rights:

A trade agreement with Korea should not include rules that go beyond the existing intellectual property rights agreement of the WTO that may adversely impact women, farmers’ rights, food security, traditional knowledge and the protection of public health. This is not the case. Trade agreement’s rules should comply with the Doha declaration on access to medicines and with the Convention on Biological Diversity. This is not the case. Intellectual property rules must not limit countries’ ability to prohibit patents on genetic plant resources for food and agriculture. This is not the case.


Procurement rules must not prevent governments from using tax dollars to support responsible purchasing and contracting practices that favor local suppliers or contain other non-commercial criteria. This is not the case in the KORUS FTA. National and sub-national governments must retain the ability to use government procurement policies to promote local employment, assist small and medium-sized businesses, safeguard workers’ rights and human rights, and achieve other legitimate social and environmental goals. This is not the case.

Therefore, I urge you to oppose the proposed Korea-U.S. FTA, and any other similar agreement, that fails to address the aforementioned concerns. This agreement fails to protect workers’ rights, human rights, food security, and environmental standards, and instead undermines the ability of governments to regulate corporations to protect the common good. I stand in solidarity with the Korean people, and am resolved to press our government to reverse its course on trade.

I call on you to reject the failed NAFTA-style free trade model, and strengthen economic and trade relations with other countries based on the principles of mutual benefit, respect for democratic rights and national sovereignty. The Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE Act) put forward last session by Sen. Sherrod Brown and Rep. Mike Michaud (with over 140 co-sponsors in the House) would establish a trade model that achieves these objectives and would, if adopted, create a framework for renegotiating existing and proposed trade agreements in a way that would insure that US and foreign businesses and consumers share equally in the benefits of increased trade.

I urge you to pledge to oppose any trade agreement that is not based on the provisions and principles incorporated in the TRADE Act, including the KORUS FTA, the US-Colombia FTA, and the US-Panama FTA. I also urge you to support US withdrawal from the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) and for new treaties, negotiated under the principles of the TRADE Act, be adopted in their place.

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