[EDITORIALS]A Policy That Addresses Rice Issues

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[EDITORIALS]A Policy That Addresses Rice Issues

Wednesday's announcement of the government's policy on rice included, in effect, discontinuance of encouraging rice farming. Considering the difficult factors, both domestic and international, surrounding the country's main crop, the government's decision was unavoidable. With continued excess supply and a soaring rice inventory, it is critical that changes in preparation for the rice market opening should be made before the scheduled World Trade Organization negotiations in 2004.

But serious concern lingers about what would be the most difficult issue for the current administration as well as the next one, considering the importance of rice as a staple and the explosive political factors surrounding rice farming.

As in all important policy moves, the change in the rice policy requires a preparatory period. The insistence on quantity as the sole focus of its rice policy raises concern on whether the government is prepared the tackle the issue. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry said it will revise the act on government purchase of rice. It is not too early to introduce a bill to implement that plan this fall. If it loses that chance this year, it will be more difficult next year for the government and the political parties, with the elections due, to tackle the issue. It is not difficult to imagine the issue being dragged on until it is too late.

What is more important is that a patchwork policy to reduce supply should not lead to an erosion in rice farming. When they realize their income will be hit hard, farmers will likely abandon rice farming quickly. The fundamental goal of the policy on rice is not to drive farmers out of the business, but to bring supply closer to equilibrium. Maintaining an appropriate level of rice production is also critical when the possibility of a natural disaster or national reunification are considered. We saw from experience how fast the production bases of cotton and beans were lost to the United States and China. We are aware of the irreversibility of the rice production base.

A fundamental change in policy for such an industry is bound to be difficult and painful. A profound understanding and cooperation is needed on the part of everyone, this includes the farmers, the government and the public in general.

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