Weak presence of other civil society actors in Japan’s FTA politics

Keidanren and JA-Zenchu are not the only civil society actors interested in FTAs. As mentioned briefly, Keidanren and JA-Zenchu are de-facto leaders of the pro-and anti-TPP coalitions that include a myriad of different interest groups. These other interest groups, however, play a significantly weaker role in Japan’s FTA politics. Since they do not enjoy institutionalized inclusion into the decision-making process of FTA policies, their roles are limited to stating or submitting their policy preferences on FTAs and participating in government organized information sessions.The presence of multiple policy subgovernments that dominate different trade policy areas enable peak associations such as Keidanren and JA-Zenchu to play a dominant role while at the same time excluding the vast majority of civil society actors from partaking in the trade policymaking process.

The Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), which is the peak labor association, is possibly the only other interest group that could potentially play an important role in FTA politics. Rengo, however, has generally failed to adopt a strong stance either in support of or in opposition to FTAs. For example, during Japans earlier FTAs with developing countries such as Mexico and Thailand, labor unions were concerned over possible increase in foreign workers (Manger 2009, ‘Chapter 5’ and ‘Chapter 7’). But Rengo did not mobilize strongly against the FTAs. Likewise, during the TPP negotiations, Rengo adopted a “cautious” stance toward theTPP due to reservations over foreign workers and labor standards (Mulgan 2015, ‘Winners, Losers, and the Cautious in Between’). In its 2013 statement on theTPP, Rengo announced that“[they] can understand the decision to participate in theTPP talks” but asked for more information and proper measures for sectors hit hard by theTPP (Rengo 2013). In 2015, Rengo recognized the need to create employment through the Japan-EU FTA and raised similar concerns over labor standards and transparency of information (Rengo 2015). In short, Rengo has been an ambivalent actor in Japan’s FTA politics, providing neither strong support or opposition. Given the lack of meaningful participation from civil society actors other than business and farm interests—specifically Keidanren and JA-Zenchu—the strength of these two actors have a huge impact on the direction and nature of Japan’s FTAs.

Korea: social mobilization and FTA politics until 2013

In contrast to Japan, civil society participation in FTA politics in Korea is less institutionalized and occurs outside the existing political institutions. Social mobilization of neoliberal and anti-liberal interests is an important feature of Korean civil society’s participation in FTA politics. The neoliberal coalition, or pro-FTA coalition, consists of export competing industries, right-wing NGOs, right-wing media, and right-wing politicians.The anti-neoliberal coalition, or the anti-FTA coalition, consists of import competing industries, left-wing NGOs, left-wing media, and leftwing politicians (Choi 2006,65-79). In Korea, there are four issues that distinguish between right-wing and left-wing political orientations.These are positions toward the alliance between Korea and the U.S., the appeasement policy toward North Korea, big business (chaebol or conglomerates), and labor. Right-wing political orientation is pro-Korea-U.S. alliance, anti-appeasement policy toward North Korea, pro-chaebol (i.e., pro-business), and anti-labor. Left-wing political orientation is the opposite on all four issues.

Anti-neoliberal coalition

Between the two competing coalitions, the anti-neoliberal coalition is more prominent and has a longer history. The anti-neoliberal coalition first emerged during Korea’s first FTA negotiation with Chile during President Kim Dae-jung’s administration (1998—2002). Angry farmers, militant labor unions, and anti-trade NGOs formed a united front to oppose the FTA. Among the various organizations, Junnong (Korean Peasants League), Minnochong (Korean Confederation of Trade Unions), Hannochong (Federation of Korean Trade Unions), Jungyojo (Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union), Coalition for Cultural Diversity in Moving Images, People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, and Minbyun (Lawyers for a Democratic Society) spearheaded the anti-neoliberal coalition. These groups launched a campaign to disrupt and halt the government’s FTA negotiations with Chile from the very beginning.

Junnong, along with Minnochong and Hannochong, mobilized their resources to stage anti-FTA rallies in front of the government complex. With the help from agricultural economists and pro-agriculture government think tanks, they mounted an intellectual attack on the very logic of negotiating an FTA with Chile. In particular, they argued that an FTA with Chile would only harm Korea’s uncompetitive agriculture sector in return for measly gains in Korean exports (Choi 2005a). They claimed that cheap Chilean farm products would wipe out pricey Korean products and called for a stop to the Korea-Chile FTA.Their opposition was also strategic in the sense that an FTA with Chile would set a precedent for future market openings to foreign farm products at preferential tariffs.

The Korea-Chile FTA negotiations were completed on October 2002. After many months of preparation, which included a compensation package for farmers who would be adversely affected by the FTA, the new government of Korea submitted the ratification bill to the National Assembly on July 2003. However, due to vehement opposition from the anti-neoliberal coalition outside of the National Assembly and partisan division within the National Assembly, the ratification decision was delayed. The anti-neoliberal coalition organized a series of massive rallies in front of the National Assembly. In the early rounds of mass demonstrations in the summer of 2003, farmers from rural areas drove their trucks and tractors to join the rally in Seoul. Some farmers lied down in the middle of the road and some drove intentionally slowly, causing serious traffic jams in many parts of the highway (Yoon 2003). As time passed, the anti-FTA rallies became more violent. Some farmers tied themselves with chains and demanded the withdrawal of the bill. When the National Assembly attempted to vote on the ratification bill in early February of 2004, the anti-neoliberal opposition staged a massive demonstration with 10,000 farmers from all over the country on 300 buses (Lee 2004).They marched to the National Assembly and tried to cross the police line. When faced with police blockade, the protestors threw empty bottles, stones, and eggs, and wielded wood clubs.They even attempted to turn the police buses upside down. Demonstrators broke the windows of police buses and set nearby construction sites on fire. The police tried to disperse the demonstrators by shooting water cannons. Ultimately, the Korea-Chile FTA was only approved after three dramatic failed attempts.

In the same time period, the anti-neoliberal coalition also mobilized to oppose the Korea-U.S. Bilateral Investment Treaty. During the Bilateral Investment Treaty negotiation, Korea’s screen quota, which mandated the screening of Korean films for 144 days a year, emerged as a deal breaker.The U.S. demanded the abolishment or substantial reduction of the screen quota, arguing that such a measure would put foreign investors at a disadvantage vis-a-vis local investors. Under the leadership of the Coalition for Cultural Diversity in Moving Images, the Korean film sector mounted a vehement opposition to any reductions in the screen quota. On June 1999, a renowned film director Lim Kwon-tack shaved his head in a defiant act of protest in downtown Seoul. He claimed, “We try to defend not just the film sector, but cultural sovereignty” (Jung 1999). He argued that the Korean government was giving up on cultural sovereignty for economic gains. Ultimately, the opposition succeeded in derailing the Korea-U.S. Bilateral Investment Treaty (Choi 2005b).When the subsequent Korean government under President Roh Moo-hyun (2003-2007) announced the launching of FTA negotiations with the U.S. in 2006, the Korean government preemptively reduced the screen quota from 144 days to 72 days. Such a move reflected the strategic calculation of the Korean government, which learned from the failure of the earlier Korea-US. Bilateral Investment Treaty talks (Choi 2006).

An interesting trait of the anti-neoliberal coalition is that a strong undertone of anti-Americanism ties together the different groups. In fact, the key activists of the Coalition for Cultural Diversity in Moving Images are those who organized the anti-American rally in 2002. The anti-American rally occurred in response to an accident in which an American military vehicle killed two Korean middle school girls in 2002. Members of the anti-neoliberal coalition not only took part in the 2002 anti-American rally, but also led two other major anti-American demonstra-tions:The protest over the KORUS FTA in 2006-2007 and the candlelight demonstrations against the importation of U.S. beef in 2008 (Mo 2011).

Korea’s anti-neoliberal coalition is able to generate strong pressure on the government due to its ability to organize massive social demonstrations and persuade public opinion. As previously mentioned, the anti-neoliberal coalition has the capacity to organize massive social demonstrations that brings together a wide array of civil society groups and also the general public. In addition, the anti-neoliberal coalition is greatly strengthened by the support of progressive media. During the KORUS FTA negotiations, major left-wing newspapers such as Hankyoreh and Kyunghyang allocated significant resources and pages to report that the KORUS FTA would threaten the sovereignty of public policymaking in areas such as public health, environment, intellectual property right, real estate, and the financial sector. The Korean government felt that the report was biased and did not portray the KORUS FTA in its entirety. The government made strong efforts to respond to progressive media outlets and correct these reports. The government also established ad-hoc high ranking committee, the KORUS Facilitation Committee, that would help spread a more positive and affirmative outlook of the KORUS FTA. The KORUS Facilitation Committee consisted of several ministers and leaders from business associations, media, and civic groups (see Chapter 4).

 
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