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Korean peasant unions condemn importation of agricultural products

SEOUL, May 5, 2024 – Peasants’ unions in South Korea recently protested the sale of imported agricultural products by the local agricultural cooperatives, especially, Hanaro Mart.

Hanaro Mart is a grocery supermarket chain by National Agricultural Cooperative Federation [NACF] [Nonghyup], with over 2000 stores across the country that are supposedly meant to sell only locally grown agricultural and livestock products.

The Yeongam County Peasants’ Association held a press conference in front of the Yeongam County Branch of the NACF. About 50 peasants attended the press conference.

Speaking at the conference, Jeong Cheol, the Chairperson of Yeongam County Peasants’ Association, said, “It is an undeniable reality in South Korea that, due to the government’s misguided agricultural policies and the climate crisis, whenever there is a possibility of even a slight increase in agricultural product prices, imported agricultural products flood in, destabilising agricultural product prices and threatening the livelihoods of peasants. It is absolutely unacceptable for the NACF, a cooperative created by peasants, to sell imported agricultural products, which is like stabbing the cooperative members in the back.”

The participants demanded that all imported agricultural products within Hanaro Mart be immediately removed and no longer sold, and the Yeongam County Branch of the NACF strictly monitor Hanaro Mart to ensure that no imported agricultural products are sold. If they are sold, immediate reporting to the central headquarters and suspension of all support to the respective cooperative were demanded. They also delivered a letter to the Yeongam County Branch of the NACF.

Kwon Hyeok-ju, the head of the Yeongam County Peasants’ Association, stated, “Although the Yeongam County Peasants’ Association has protested and warned several times against various agricultural cooperatives selling imported agricultural products at Hanaro Mart within our jurisdiction, the cooperatives only briefly withdrew after receiving the protests, then resumed selling imported agricultural products. We can no longer tolerate this behavior, so we held this press conference as a final warning. If imported agricultural products are sold again at Hanaro Mart after today, we will take immediate retaliatory action without further warning.”

On April 25, 2024, the Gwangyang City Peasants’ Association which raised the banner of this year’s struggle against imported agricultural products at Hanaro Mart for the first time, held another press conference in front of Gwangyangwonhyeop. It was a formal press conference following informal gatherings held in front of Jinjang Cooperative on April, 19 2024.

Meanwhile, the Gwangyang City Peasants’ Association is conducting two parallel struggles against the local agricultural cooperatives; recovery of shipping incentive funds’ and ‘prevention of the sale of imported agricultural products. ‘Shipping incentive funds’ refer to a 0.5 percent incentive that is paid by wholesale market to auction companies to encourage shipping. Peasants want that these incentives are extended to them instead.

The large-scale cooperative struggle that began with the fight for the recovery of shipping incentive funds has expanded to include imported agricultural products. Recently, most of the cooperatives in Gwangyang have withdrawn imported agricultural products from their shelves and are considering payment of shipping incentive funds, but the peasants are demanding a clear resolution.

The press conference was attended by over 50 peasants, including Yoon Il-kwon, the Chairperson of the Gwangju Jeonnam Federation of the National Peasants’ Federation, as well as peasants from nearby cities and counties such as Suncheon and Boseong.

Yoon Il-kwon said, “The cooperative is supposed to be an organisation for the economic and social advancement of peasants, but the current cooperative has degenerated into a business enterprise, squeezing peasants’ blood and pursuing only its own profit by imposing high fees and loan interest rates on peasants until they die.” The union urged the six cooperatives in Gwangyang City to pay shipping incentive funds and stop selling imported agricultural products.

After the press conference, in a symbolic protest, the participating peasants threw imported bananas at the NACF. The Gwangyang City Peasants’ Association plans to continue piling pressure on the NACF through picketing and other forms of protest until the issues are resolved.

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