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Global Free Trade is on its deathbed. Globalized Solidarity and Localized Agriculture will bring food sovereignty: Korean Peasants’ League

By Lee Kyung Hae - La Via Campesina, September 10, 2021

In a statement issued to commemorate the International Day of Action against WTO and FTAs, the South East and East Asian members of La Via Campesina have issued a statement reminding that free-market economy has failed the world and food sovereignty is our future. Read the full statement below.

“WTO Kills Farmers!”—it is what Lee Kyung Hae, who took his own life during a protest against WTO in Cancun, Mexico, shouted out on September 10, 2003. The world was outraged by his death. Peasants from the world once again strengthened their will to fight against WTO at the global peasant funeral for Lee. The anniversary of Lee’s death has been designated as the International Day of Action against WTO and FTA.

18 years have passed since Lee’s death. For 18 years—even before Lee’s death, free trade with an arsenal of FTA, mainly led by WTO, has threatened the lives of the people all over the world, including peasants; it has influenced all parts of the world—from cities’ dense buildings, jungle and grasslands to deserts.

Over the past 30 years, free trade has only satisfied global capital’s appetite by emptying out people’s money and depriving freedom to peasants in smaller nations. And its result has been disastrous. Under different names, free trade has brought poverty, starvation, deprivation of resources, and destruction of environment; degrading food producers to food importers; privatizing water resources and public service; obliterating native seeds; and destroying a traditional mode of agriculture. Then, a nation has lost their own sovereignty, while multinational capital replacing for its place.

However, we are facing the end of free trade now. Every country has taken its leave of free trade, for national borders are closed with a movement restricted among nations due to COVID-19, and for the world is confronted with a new kind of food crisis from climate change. Those who used to insist free trade, claim protectionism now; agriculture is no exception. In the midst of this crisis, the world is struggling to secure foods to provide their people. The opportunity to achieve food sovereignty is right ahead of us.

Due to unjust capital and policies, free trade threatening lives of peasants and the people all over the world, has almost drawn its last breath; globalized solidarity and localized agriculture will fill in for it. Finishing free trade, peasants and the people will pave, on their own, the way toward a new era of food sovereignty.

Korea Peasant League resolves to lead this way, requesting as follows:

  • Against free trade threatening peasants’ right to live in the pursuit of the benefits of capital!
  • Against free trade bringing debt, poverty, hunger, and death!
  • Against free trade expelling peasants from the community!
  • Let’s build a new trade order based on peasants’ dignity, self-supply, and solidarity!

Labour on the farm

By Chris Smaje - Small Farm Future, May 26, 2021

The first draft of A Small Farm Future had a chapter called ‘Labour on the farm’ which didn’t make the final version. I needed to cut the length, and although there were parts of this chapter I was quite attached to, I felt I hadn’t nailed the issues as well as I’d like, so it was easy to spike. Some passages found their way into other parts of the book, but I’d been hoping to make good on the issue in this blog cycle with parts of the deleted chapter and my own more polished thoughts. Trouble is, I still don’t feel I’ve nailed this issue sufficiently. So instead I offer this post as a placeholder for a more distant day when I hope I can offer something more up to scratch.

What I’ll do here instead is provide a few brief thoughts on the topic prompted by a deeper dive I took recently into Francesca Bray’s fascinating book The Rice Economies (University of California Press, 1986) – an old book, but a very good one. Then I’m hoping I can come back in the future with something a bit more expansive.

A key organizing theme in Bray’s book is her contention that wheat in western countries and dryland cereal crops in general offer economies of scale in production that don’t exist in the case of the wet rice cultivation that dominates much of the populous regions of East, South and Southeast Asia. The combination of relatively scarce labour and relatively abundant land in the west (albeit that the latter was too often a function of colonial dispossession) created a dynamic of labour substitution and mechanization geared to increasing the per worker productivity of farming as an economic sector that’s come to be seen as exemplary of agricultural ‘progress’. In the wet rice regions, on the other hand, relatively abundant labour and relatively scarce land created a dynamic of agricultural development where the focus was using more (skilled) labour to increase the per acre productivity of the land.

From this point of departure, Bray unfurls an enormously detailed and sophisticated discussion of poverty, development, mechanization, landownership, credit, state formation, agrarian organization and much else besides which I hope to draw and elaborate from in future posts. But for now I’ll restrict myself to a couple of main points.

In certain situations of economic growth and capitalist development, there can be a compelling logic to agricultural labour substitution of the western kind. People quit the toilsome agrarian life for better paid jobs in industry or services, helping fuel an accumulation of capital and resources that redounds to the net benefit of all.

This is a pretty idealized vision of how capitalism works in practice, but it has a sufficient grain of historical truth to it in western societies to colour notions of a more labour-intensive agricultural future with a sense of regress and misplaced romanticism. Nevertheless, it matters where the accumulated capital and resources go. If labour substitution helps generate extra income that doesn’t find its way back to labourers, then to them there is no benefit. And this is basically what’s happening in the present phase of the global economy.

Only 18% of global Recovery spending in 2020 was green

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, March 10, 2021

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released Are We Building Back Better? Evidence from 2020 and Pathways for Inclusive Green Recovery Spending, on March 10. It estimates that in 2020, the world’s fifty largest economies announced USD14.6tn in fiscal measures to address the pandemic economic crisis, and states: …. “Excluding currently uncertain packages from the European Commission, 18.0% of recovery spending, and only 2.5% of total spending, is expected to enhance sustainability. The vast majority of green spending has come from a small set of high-income nations” with France, Germany and South Korea highlighted for their relatively high percentage of green recovery spending. Canada’s spending is small, with only brief references which state that we have focused on “cleaning dirty energy assets”, and have made fossil fuel investment. (no details or examples given). It is notable that the report covers 2020, so that U.S. spending is also low, though hope is expressed for the Biden/Harris administration. Notably, the report looks to the future: “….. the largest window for green spending is only now opening, as nations shift attention from short-term rescue measures to recovery. Using examples from 2020 spending, we highlight five major green investment opportunities to be prioritised in 2021: green energy, green transport, green building upgrades & energy efficiency, natural capital, and green research and development.”

Each of those topics is analyzed, with some exemplary policies highlighted. Some overarching issues: “Of particular note, despite continuing high global unemployment and widespread damage to human capital, spending on worker retraining in 2020 was small and almost exclusively non-green. Nations transitioning to a low-carbon economy must invest in human capital to enable and match future growth priorities. Structural changes in major sectors, including energy, agriculture, transport, and construction, require shifts in the structure and capabilities of the domestic labour force.”

Also, regarding “green strings”: “Although some dirty rescue-type expenditure may have been necessary to ensure that lives and livelihoods were saved, many of the largest of these policies could have included positive green attributes. For instance, airline bailouts in nations all over the world, including South Africa, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States could have included green conditions. Green conditions tied to liquidity support, like requirements to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or mandates to increase sustainable fuel use, can ensure short term relief while also promoting investment in long-term technological development and acting as a strong guide in national efforts to meet climate targets.”

The report is supported by the United Nations UNEP, the International Monetary Fund and GIZ through the Green Fiscal Policy Network (GFPN). The data was collected by the Oxford University Economic Recovery Project and is now available through the Global Recovery Observatory, a new database which will be updated regularly (most recently at the end of February).

The report cites many other studies and reports, notably: “Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?” by Cameron Hepburn, Brian O’Callaghan, Nicholas Stern, Joseph Stiglitz, and Dimitri Zenghelis, which appeared in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy in May 2020.

South East and East Asia Peasant Women extend unconditional solidarity to villagers resisting THAAD missile system in South Korea

By staff - La Via Campesina, February 6, 2018

In 2016, the Korean government agreed with the US to place the American built anti-ballistic missile system THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Air Defense) in the quiet town of Seongju South Korea. The then government of South Korea headed by conservative president Park Geun-hye, steamrollered the project through a hasty environmental review during her last months in office. This weapons system will threaten peace in the world, particularly in South Korea and North East Asia, apart from facilitating the spread of US hegemony in this region. It is harmful to human health and the environment. A majority of the Korean people are absolutely opposed to this government’s unilateral policy decision. Korean peasants’ organisations have been consistently opposing the project as its threatens peace and stability in the region.

At the Regional Women Workshop of La Via Campesina South East and East Asia, held in January 2018, the peasant leaders from several countries in the region unanimously condoned the project, visited the communities affected and extended solidarity to the residents of the village that is at the forefront of the resistance against this missile program. Here is the complete statement that came out after participants visited the affected region.

Are “Green” Jobs Decent?

By Lene Olsen, et. al. - International Labour Organization, 2012

This issue of the Journal focuses on the question of whether the jobs that are emerging in the efforts to reach sustainable development can be described as “decent”.

A series of case studies is presented which demonstrates that this seems to be far from the case. While these results remain very partial, this should be seen as an important reminder that “green” employment is not decent by definition and that like in any other sector, green jobs require careful stewardship from public authorities to ensure that workers are able to exercise their rights. This is all the more the case given the central role government policy plays in creating the enabling conditions for these industries to emerge and thrive.

Read the report (Link).

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