13 August 2002
KOREA IN UPROAR OVER SOFTENING OF GMO RULES AFTER TRADE TALKS WITH U.S.
ROK Softens Rules on GMO Imports From US
The Korea Times, Aug 9, 2002, by Kim Sung-jin
Korea is in uproar with suspicions arising of a possible repetition of the government's covering up of a foreign trade deal just as it did with the Chinese garlic imports.
At the third Korea-U.S. trade talks Thursday, Seoul's decision to ease import regulations on genetically modified organisms (GMO) has become a hot potato in the country.
Upon hearing the news, civic groups expressed strong indignation over the government's acquiescence. Voices are being raised that in order to secure the health safety of the nations food supply, stronger and more stringent regulations are required, not only for domestic products but especially for imports.
"The Korean government should tighten its regulations on genetically modified food. If you look at the European Union, their GMO related regulations are much harsher than ours. Food is directly connected to our national's health and it should be protected. We are being molested by the U.S. Do you think the EU would just lie back and relax if the U.S. did the same to them?" said Kwon Young-geun, head of the Korean Institute for the Study of Rural Societies and the executive committee chairperson for the Korea Anti-GMO Network (KAGN).
The press release by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) Thursday regarding the bilateral trade talks read, "The two parties have expressed satisfaction over arriving at an amicable accord on the issue of a mandatory genetically modified food labeling system."
The statement is widely seen as the Korean government's acceptance of everything the U.S. requested in the easing of import regulations for U.S. genetically modified food imports. Washington has continuously put pressure on Korea to lift its regulations on genetically modified foods.
Last December, Chief Agriculture Negotiator of the US Trade Representative (USTR) Allen Johnson expressed his strong resentment toward the mandatory labeling of all agricultural products containing ingredients whose natural genetic structure had been tampered with.
In addition, the government appears to have backed down from its defense of citizens' rights. It currently implements a GMO import regulation under a policy of protecting customer health and right to information by requiring either identity preserved documentation or government issued certification from food imports to accurately distinguish GMO-contained food from non-GMO foodstuffs.
It agreed to the U.S. demand that American food products will only present notarized self-certification, which means U.S. food companies will be able to issue their own certification. Such a regime would clearly lack credibility and accuracy in helping consumers distinguish natural and genetically engineered food.
Regarding the statement, a Korean Federation for Environmental Movement (KFEM) official commented that the government has spontaneously destroyed the system aimed at protecting Koreans. This will lead to even more trade pressure from the U.S. since the large majority of genetically modified food exports in the world come from U.S. producers.
The Fair Trade Commission (FTC) is currently implementing an inclusion of important indication in advertisements system since last month in covering genetically modified food products. This requires genetically modified food producers to clearly label the presence of GMOs in their advertising.
However, this system is good for nothing at the moment with no cases having been filed, and even if the U.S. ships in genetically engineered products, the Korean people will have no choice but be fully exposed to the danger of genetically tampered food that has not even been proven safe for eating.
"The government should maintain the strict import regulation on GMO imports until the safety of genetically modified food can be proven. Food is directly linked to life and health. It is not a thing that the government can exchange with a few more exports of automobiles," said the KFEM official.
Park Hyo-sung, director of the North American Trade Bureau under MOFAT said, "The bilateral talks were just for a reviewing of outstanding trade issues, not the trade negotiations. Therefore, nothing was decided in the meeting. We just delivered our future bilateral trade policy plans and our demands to the U.S." He added that the U.S. delegation did the same. Rumors and misleading reports by the media are wrong and we neither discussed nor agreed about automobile excise tax cuts, nor agreed with the U.S. to not so sternly regulate U.S. GMO imports for not labeling GMO signs on their products and ads."
But it still remains to seen whether the government has been honest in revealing the full extent of issues that were discussed during the meeting.
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