Some progress in trade talks; 15 protesters arrested outside
U.S. and South Korean negotiators concluded a challenging third round of trade talks in Seattle Saturday, with some progress but much ground...
Seattle Times staff reporters
U.S. and South Korean negotiators concluded a challenging third round of trade talks in Seattle Saturday, with some progress but much ground to cover toward a proposed free-trade agreement between the two nations.
Wendy Cutler, chief U.S. negotiator, had predicted earlier last week that discussions, held at Seattle's Washington State Convention & Trade Center, would be intense and require concessions. "I'm here to report that that accurately reflected this week," she said. "... Frankly, I would have hoped to have made more progress."
The most notable movement, she said, involved labor and environmental protections as well as two offers improved upon by her delegation regarding textiles and industrial goods, two of the more contested issues.
Another sticking point, pharmaceuticals, saw "no concrete progress" but rumors of the U.S. delegation walking out on the second day of discussions were only half correct, Cutler said, in one of the event's lighter moments.
"Our delegation did leave the room in the middle of the session, but the Korean delegation left with us," she said. The reason: a ventilation system that was too noisy.
Among other things, the U.S. is seeking greater access to South Korea's cable and satellite-television markets as well as its automotive markets. Agricultural issues — and the effect that importing U.S. products would have on South Korean farmers — remain sensitive and were the focus of protests throughout the week around Seattle.
More rounds of trade talks are scheduled. If the two sides eventually reach accord, it would be the biggest trade pact since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994.
Cutler deflected questions about what's being done to help assuage Korean farmers' worries to her counterpart, South Korean Ambassador Kim, who was set to hold a press conference — in Korean only — later Saturday night.
"Trade agreements by nature create concerns and anxiety," Cutler said, adding that the U.S. supports safeguards and transition periods to help ease implementation. "We both have proposals. Now it's a matter of trying to bridge our differences."
The trade talks engendered days of protest in Seattle.
On Saturday morning at a rally outside the convention center, 15 protesters from Korea and U.S. labor groups hoped to be arrested to draw attention to their complaints. They succeeded.
The protesters — nine from Korea and six from the U.S. — first tried to get arrested by blocking doors at the convention center while chanting, "Free trade is a lie."
When police declined to intervene, the protesters confronted a line of police blocking an alley and were arrested.
Three Americans, all women, who broke through the police line most aggressively, were booked into King County jail on suspicion of misdemeanor assault, said police spokesman Rich Pruitt. The women were in their 20s and 30s, from Washington, D.C.; Brookline, Mass.; and New York City.
The other protesters, including those from South Korea, were later released, Pruitt said.
The arrests did not disrupt the negotiations taking place behind locked doors, Pruitt said.
Seattle Police Capt. Steve Brown said his officers, including a Korean-speaking officer, tried to dissuade the protesters from confronting or injuring police.
Shortly after noon Saturday, a multicultural crowd of about 100 — including the 12 protesters who had been arrested and released, local union leaders and members of social-justice organizations — marched through downtown.
Carrying a festive cardboard coffin and calling the march a "funeral procession," to symbolize the harm they believe is caused by trade policies, protesters chanted and rang bells from Federal Plaza to Victor Steinbrueck Park, where a rally capped days of demonstrations and cultural events organized in opposition to the trade talks.
Protesters decried what they called the secrecy of the negotiations, the erosion of Korean sovereignty and trade policies they believe are harmful to farmers in both nations.
"If the free-trade agreement is ratified, the Korean farmers would be completely destroyed, the rice farmers completely gone," said Lee Changgeun, a labor organizer from Seoul, at the morning protest.
Robby Stern of the Washington State Labor Council was among the protesters arrested and released. He said the secret trade talks were being negotiated solely with business interests in mind.
"It's not about being anti-globalization; globalization is a reality," Stern said. "It's a matter of globalization closing out the future interests of people and workers and the environment, and not just the interests of multinational corporations."
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