Situation about Korean People’s Struggle on Beef Deal

The resumption of U.S. beef imports was one of the prerequisites for South Korea to begin negotiations with the United States on a free trade agreement. To launch the trade talks, South Korea partially resumed imports of the American meat in 2006.

Korea, once the world’s third-largest buyer of U.S. beef, had banned imports of the American meat in 2003 after a case of mad cow disease was found in the United States.


Korea reopened its market to US beef less than 30 months of age and restricted imports to meat without bones. However, bones were found in a shipment during inspections on them. These demonstrated that US beef exporters are not able to meet the food-safety standards agreed upon by Korea-US. The US reacted to the ban by accusing Korea of setting its food-safety bar too high and demanded Korea to fully open its market to all US beef. This was a pre-requisite to the consideration of the Korea-US FTA.

Korea agreed with the U.S. on April 17 to lift almost all restrictions on American beef imports, which were imposed in late 2003 after the first of its three mad cow cases was confirmed in the state of Washington.

However Korean public opinion wants a complete scrap of April 18 beef deal and renegotiation of the beef deal. More than 80 percent of the country wants an entirely new deal, and now even the ruling party wants one, too. The ruling party, GNP had previously insisted that US beef is safe and the beef deal is necessary for the Korea-US FTA. However, GNP changed its position due to nationwide anti-beef deal demonstrations taking place.

The scale, intensity, and variety of participants in the street protests continue to grow. The mood is like a “Second June Struggle,” the June Struggle of 1987 having been a significant event in Korea’s democracy movement. However some told that May struggle for nullification of Beef deal has a lot of significant signs that differ from 1987 democracy struggle. These actions are creating New democracy.

Details of the US Beef Import Crisis in Korea

April 17

– The beef agreement between South Korea and the United States reached.

– Market reopening to US beef and animal parts without any limits on age

* It means importing animal parts classified as specified risk materials in the United States, including bones and nerves attached to the backbone and cervical vertebrae and a part of the tailbone. It is said that these parts are essential ingredients for tail soup, head meat and T-bone steak, which are Korean favorites. However, most of these parts have been prohibited from trading by the World Organization for Animal Health, or OIE, because they can cause mad cow disease.

* The agreement, unveiled on the eve of Lee’s first summit with U.S. President George W. Bush, was largely considered as Seoul’s concession to get a bilateral free trade agreement passed in the U.S. Congress. Most people believe the beef negotiations were settled as a “gift” given to the United States in exchange for President Lee Myung-bak’s U.S. visit.

April 18

– Korea announced that it would fully open its beef market to U.S. products,

– Korea- US Summit in the US.

April 30

– One Korean Media, Munhwa Broadcasting Company’s investigative television news program “PD Notebook” recently ran a similar report about the U.S. meat, amid the occasionally prejudiced criticism that it inflated the risks and increased fears of mad cow disease. The warnings against, and feelings of uneasiness about, mad cow disease run deep. showed a progra m raising suspicion on US beef relating to Mad Caw Disease.

May 2

– President Lee said, “Social discomfort should not be amplified by approaching the (beef) issue politically.” The remarks were widely seen as Lee’s perception that the recent spread of public anxiety was politically motivated, instead of being focused on people’s concerns about the safety of their food.


– Lee said also.”Consumers have a choice. If it’s dangerous, we can’t and won’t eat it. Sellers won’t import (the product) if their business isn’t doing well.”

– Candlelit vigil hosted by internet users

* Every individual voluntarily joined including a large number of young students.

1) Many people criticize the Korean government for giving up its quarantine sovereignty.

2) distrust about Korean administration on promise about food safety

May 6

– USDA announces “US Beef is Safe” (US beef has no Mad Cow Disease)

– a nationwide coalition of civic groups against the resumption of U.S. beef imports, called the “People’s Countermeasure Council against Full Imports of U.S. Beef,” was formed.

– The coalition adopted 4 resolutions : Cancel and renegotiate the beef deal / Investigate the negotiation process and discharge officers responsible for the dealmaking / President Lee’s acknowledgement and public apology for his responsibility regarding the beef deal / Enact special law to prevent Mad Cow disease .

May 7

– The National Assembly debates over the US beef at a hearing to discuss the ratification of the free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States.

May 8

– To ease public concerns, the Korean administration has reversed its earlier stance and pledged to suspend imports if a case of mad cow disease is detected in the United States and possibly could seek revision of a Korea-U.S. agreement in such case.

May 13

– The US told that if there is problem with beef, they will accept suspension. “‘문제되면 수입중단’ 수용”

* However it is revealed for two sides to agree that unless the OIE downgrades the U.S. in terms of mad cow disease risk, Korea cannot suspend imports even if mad cow disease is discovered in the U.S.

May 14

– A lawmaker from the main opposition United Democratic Party, said that the U.S. beef import agreement allows imports of animal parts that have been categorized as unfit for consumption in the United States.

* “The U.S. beef import agreement allows the transverse and spinous processes of the vertebrae and the medial sacral crest (from the cattle older than 30 months) to be imported, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture has categorized both parts as specified risk material for BSE (bovine spongiform ecephalopathy).”

May 20

– Korea and US gov’t announced additional agreement .

– Trade Minister of South Korea and U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab signed a letter that will be attached to the U.S. beef import agreement at the briefing room of the South Korean Foreign Ministry.

– With the new document, the South Korean government says that it has clarified two provisions from the April 18 agreement. Article 5 of the earlier agreement incapacitates South Korea’s right to protect its quarantine sovereignty. Article 1, Clause 9, relaxes the criteria for specified risk materials, which are thought to cause mad cow disease, to below what is acceptable according to U.S. regulations. In a press conference, South Korean Trade Minister Kim said, “I believe (the letter) will have a significant effect because mi nister-level officials from both nations have clarified (the issues).”

* There were no statements in the letter saying that South Korea can halt imports of U.S. beef if a new case of mad cow disease is discovered in the United States.

This suggests that South Korea would not be able to ban U.S. beef imports, even if a case of mad cow disease were found, if Seoul were unable to provide scientific evidence of the spread of the brain-wasting illness.

* The South Korean government was expected to announce on May 20 an attachment to the beef import agreement with the United States that would clarify South Korea’s quarantine sovereignty. This is the government’s latest effort to appease public anger over the agreement, which many have felt did not adequately address concerns about mad cow disease. The South Korean government’s “additional agreement” with the United States failed to ease fears about the safety of American beef and protect Seoul’s quarantine sovereignty.

May 22

– President Lee said, “The government didn’t make a sufficient effort to seek the people’s understanding and collect public opinion. I humbly accept the criticism that the government failed to understand the public sentiment. It is regrettable.”

* Many people denounced that President Lee was weeping crocodile tears.

May 25

– A member of KCTU lit up himself and remained in critical condition. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, one of the nation’s two major labor organizations.

May 29

– South Korea notified the Korean public American beef imports and announced the conditions for U.S. beef imports and pledged to take steps to tighten quarantine and inspection control to ensure safety.

– The Korea Cargo Transport Workers’ Union held demonstrations at several cargo terminals in Busan, where tons of frozen U.S. beef are in reserve, and announced Labor unions plan to refuse to ship American beef imports. It is a member trade union of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.

* Public anger against the beef deal escalated after the government officially announced Friday that it will enforce the deal within days.

– The prosecution round up 218 protestors over the last four days by the police _ most of them had surrendered at City Hall Square without violence.

– The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) office Thursday welcomed South Korea’s announcement to reopen its beef market to American products.

– More than 10 cities across the country including Incheon, Suwon in Gyeonggi Province, Daejeon, Busan and Jeonju held candlelit vigils also.

– Lawmakers from the minor opposition Democratic Labor Party strarted their hunger strike, demanding the government withdraw its beef import decision. The Liberty Forward Party also called for the resignation of Cabinet members and an apology from President Lee.

May 30

– The opposition parties’ coalition submitted a petition to the Constitutional Court to nullify the government’s decision to resume U.S. beef imports.

May 31

– Around 150,000 participants gathered for candlelit vigil . Police suppressed the march with water cannon and violence and arrested 228 people and injured 60.

June 2

– Korean administration announced that it would delay the resumption of U.S. beef imports by delaying posting the new American beef import rules in its official gazette,

* The decision came after an official request from the governing Grand National Party (GNP) earlier in the day. The posting was scheduled for July 3.

– President Lee Myung-bak, meanwhile, expressed his willingness to dismiss some Cabinet ministers and secretaries in a bid to stem the crisis triggered by the decision to resume U.S. beef imports.

June 3

– Alexander Vershbow, the U.S. ambassador to Korea, in referring to the safety of American beef, is said to have uttered that he hopes the Korean people learn some more science. *

*That kind of attitude is only going to incite anger among the Korean public. Every country has the right to not import food that its people do not think is safe.

– Korean administration proposed that the United States voluntarily limit exports of beef (“Voluntary Export Restraint” rule) from cattle aged 30 months or older, public sentiment toward the beef issue grew even more negative.

* Many feel gov’t plan to ask for voluntarily limits on U.S. beef exports was stop-gap measure

June 5

– Lawmakers from the ruling Grand National Party have started calling for the government of President Lee Myung-bak to renegotiate with the United States over an April beef import agreement following the United States’ chilly reception of the South Korean government’s proposal for a so-called “Voluntary Export Restraint” rule.

– Citizens, students and unionists started a 72-hour nonstop rally in Seoul, Thursday, to step up pressure on the Lee Myung-bak administration to renegotiate an agreement to resume U.S. beef imports.

– It aimed to draw a total of “1 million people” until June 10 to protest the beef deal and other controversial plans, including the cross-country canal and privatization policies.

– A South Korean man set himself on fire early in the day morning following a candlelit rally. Kim, a day laborer, had reportedly been joining daily candlelight vigils, which have recently turned into anti-government protests.

– The Lawyers for a Democratic Society, the largest association of lawyers filed a lawsuit against the South Korean government over its beef import decision.

– The lawmakers of the opposition parties refused to join the 18th parliament until the renegotiation is accepted by the Korean administration.

June 10

– Candlelit vigil draws record numbers

– It is on the 21st anniversary of a historic pro-democracy movement

– The ministers offers to quit

June 13

– Ministry of foreing affairs and trade sent the representative to US to renegociate on beef import

Characteristics of the people’s current resistances

The forms of demonstrations

1) Students, civic group members and citizens have held candlelit vigils every evening since May 2 to oppose the full opening of the local market to U.S. beef.

2) Daily candlelight vigils of early May turned into street marches to the Blue House by mid May. People have made overnight stay to continue the demonstrations. On weekends, demonstrations begin during the day continuing through the night and following day.

3) No acts of violence have been committed during the demonstrations.

4) These street demonstrations are against the law on public assembly and demonstrations. Behind such acts of civil disobedience committed by ordinary citizens is the recognition that their behavior is more reasonable than that of those in power. Even if they admit that they have broken the law, it is more important to them that the freedom of expression as guaranteed by the constitution be recognized.


1) Many teenagers have taken part in the rallies, saying they will be the main “victims” of American beef, which they believe to be unsafe. They have lit candles despite police warnings that such rallies are illegal.

Conventionally indifferent to social issues, these teens took to the streets calling for their right to choose what to eat. They created online communities where they shared information on mad cow disease and denounced the government for allegedly making a hasty deal.

2) As the candlelit vigils link to marching all night, a growing number of citizens and college students are replacing middle and high school students in candlelit vigils that are sweeping over Seoul and other major cities across the nation to protest American beef imports.

3) From housewives wheeling baby strollers to office workers and senior citizens, people from every corner of society are taking part in the rallies, defying the use of force by police.


1) It has been the Internet that brought people together to the vigils and real action rather than sitting and complaining. At the internet café, members shared information on the disease, vigil schedules and how they should act, and criticized other government policies.

The Lee Myung-bak administration has alleged that some left-leaning and anti-American masterminds and behind-the-scenes organizers are pulling the strings of the vigils. However, the latest candlelit protests show little sign of being organized. Unlike past rallies characterized by organized, well-prepared chants, slogans and songs, the latest vigils lack such systematic or consistent patterns.

Many demonstrators also said that they are not protesting against the U.S. but demanding the Lee administration renegotiate the U.S. beef import agreement to protect people from mad cow disease.

2) On-line news media are broadcast live news in real time.

3) The main rold of civic organizations and social movements are organizing press conferences and preparing demonstrations.


1) Cancellation and renegotiation of the US beef deal are the core demands.

2) The protest is shifting from an initial focus on public health to broader anti-U.S. and anti-Lee Myung-bak sentiments.

3) More importantly, the widespread of people’s resistance against the US beef negotiations is a strong criticism of the Korean government’s lack of democratic process and disgraceful terms of negotiations. The most popular song at the demonstrations is a song derived from the first article of Korea Constitution….that “Korea is a democratic country and all power comes from the people.” This best describes the determination and strength of t he Korean people at this moment in history.