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Grassroots Effort to Support KORUS FTA

Posted February. 15, 2008 03:54,   


“The free trade agreement between the U.S. and Korea is really meaningful to me, a Korean American. I hope you, representing our district, will play a pivotal role in delivering the Korean community’s aspiration.”

Congressman Gary Ackerman representing the 5th congressional district of New York has recently spent lots of time reading letters from Korean Americans living in the district. He has already received mounting requests to support the Korea-U.S. FTA from Korean diplomats and economic organizations. Nevertheless, the letters from ordinary Korean American voters have different meanings to him.

Koreans living in the U.S. has waged grassroots efforts to support the trade deal.

They once concerted their efforts to pass a resolution last year to censure the fact that the Japanese military used coercion to force women into frontline brothels in the past. Now, they are making concerted efforts again. After facing difficulties passing the resolution due to Japan’s lobbying effort in the first half of last year, Korean Americans have visited and sent hundreds of thousands of letters to representatives across the nation, and held fund-raising ceremonies.

It seems that the prospects for the FTA bill to be passed in the U.S. Congress are not rosy since the Democratic Party, which holds the majority of Congressional seats, has been generally against the FTA. The U.S. presidential election is also only a few months away. After realizing that the chances are not so high, Korean Americans have concerted their efforts to support the bilateral trade agreement.

Korean Americans launched the Union of Korean Americans to Support Korea-U.S. FTA, chaired by Kim Do-gyeong, a 1.5-generation Korean American lawyer. The union has gotten support from 65 organizations of Korean Americans based in several regions including New York, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Chicago and Seattle.

Their strategy is focused on encouraging congressmen representing their congressional districts to support the FTA by sending letters and inviting them to discussion sessions.

The chairman of an organization of voters said, “U.S. Congressmen are of high positions in Washington. However, they are very close to voters of their own districts. The FTA bill can be passed in Congress only when it gets support in the voting. Therefore, voters need to contact congressmen.”

However, Koreans living in the U.S. have also faced unexpected difficulties.

A Korean American activist said, “We are approaching to the issues including the “comfort women” case and the recent FTA from the perspective of interests. It’s not about progressivism or conservatism. Nevertheless, friends working in Korean civic organizations doubt, asking how we can support the FTA while participating in civic movements at the same time. It makes us embarrassed.”

Some organizations supporting the FTA were even put on the investigation list of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The U.S. investigation bureau sensitive to espionage activities of foreign governments doubted whether voters’ unions of Korean Americans registered as non-profit organizations had taken part in unauthorized lobbying activities on behalf of the Korean government.

However, it turned out that their accounting practices were clear and the misunderstanding was cleared as they explained to the FBI, "We have voluntarily participated in the lobbying activities since the FTA affects Koreans holding U.S. citizenship.”