[EDITORIALS]A Good Rice Policy Needed

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[EDITORIALS]A Good Rice Policy Needed

The rice issue, which is at the core of this country's farm policy and carries the special sentiment of most Koreans, originated over our long history as an agrarian society. The rice issue is also a politically sensitive matter and the government often has difficulty in resolving the matter despite its utmost efforts. Such is the nature of the rice issue that it has been reflected in the history of opening Korea's rice market to the world. In fact, Korea had a difficult time at the World Trade Organization's Uruguay Round, after holding off opening its rice market.

The government's program to purchase rice and stabilize prices this year could be a short-term measure, but it is still nothing more than a stopgap measure because it added new tasks to be resolved. Since the government could only purchase a limited amount of rice due to the World Trade Organization's agriculture agreement, Seoul managed to increase the total amount of rice purchased to 1.87 million tons with help from the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation and rice processing complexes.

The market likely will lose its function as the rice price plunged due to the increase in production with continued good harvests and a reduced seasonal price gap. Considering such a condition, the government's plan was an unavoidable choice. Yet by making such a choice, Seoul ended up with an additional financial burden and management and sales of stocked rice became even more difficult.

Rice production was at its lowest in 1996, marking 4.6 million tons, and has maintained a steady 5.2 million tons every year. In contrast, rice consumption dropped rapidly and an oversupply of rice has long been the most urgent issue to be resolved through the farm policy.

It is deplorable that the government is hurrying to resolve the issue at the last moment. Seoul did not deal with the rice issue because it could affect the decision whether to continue the Saemangeum reclamation project or not. Some argue that the recent measure is nothing more than a political pork-barreling to gain votes in next year's presidential election. The government should know that the rice policy is an issue beyond the political interest of an administration.

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