Well, the FTA negotiations are over, going to the last hour (US time) Monday night. Like we had predicted here, earlier, the exclusion of the rice market was the deal maker. However, reforms to the rice market were made before negotiations were even started and there are a number of different mechanisms under which this is already happening (APEC's Bogoi Target is one). Protests continued late into the night (Korean time) on Sunday, after the worst yellow dust storm this year. During the afternoon a taxi driver immolated himself in front of the Hyatt Hotel where the negotiations were taking place. The Hankyoreh has a little on this, but they date the incident as March 1st rather than April 1st -- either as a mistake or perhaps this happened twice.
The Korea times has a number of articles up on the FTA, this one outlines some of the 'give and take' in the negotiations, link. It's still not clear to me however, what happened to Investor-State Dispute mechanisms and GATS provisions over indirect expropriation that one normally sees in things like this. I'll keep reading to see what I can find. I'm sure this will come out over time. This Korea times article is also quite odd, celebrating, I take it, the opening of Korea to a more anglo-saxon model. Unfortunately, have a trade agreement (trade agreements are never free) with the US does not equate with having an entirely new economic model. Singapore, for example, has one with the US and they are still quite mercantalist (a look at the at the assets held by Temasek, a state-owned financial corporation from Singapore, should be enough to dispel that myth).
Anyways, there perhaps a case to be made that elements of stock market capitalism are making headways in South Korea, but one should be cautious here. The Chaebol system is still dominated by its core families and attempts to restructure it have not been effective. Chaebol system of not, Korean society is now starting to see some of the dynamics experienced from neoliberalism in other countries. This weeks news was noteworthy as it announced that Samsung will be moving the production of one of its more high tech chips to china, and STX shipbuilding is also building a 1 billion dollar plant there. I'm not sure if these are grounds for an argument about de-industrialization, but it is noteworthy.
I'm also curious about what the FTA will mean for Korean labour practices. The US Democrats scolded the Korean government just before the deal was reached. Whether or not this means that Korea will come up to ILO and OECD standards in its dealings with civil servant unions and union pluralism remains to be seen.