[EDITORIALS]Agriculture Needs Help - Now

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[EDITORIALS]Agriculture Needs Help - Now

Delegates of the 144 member countries of the World Trade Organization adopted a declaration Wednesday on a new round of global trade negotiations for the 21st century. Trade barriers against Korean products will be lowered and exports and industrial production will grow. The Korea Institute for International Economic Policy forecast that the new round would result in a 2.6 to 2.9 percentage point increase of gross domestic product.

Since we will probably have to open our agricultural markets under agreements reached in the new round, minimizing the damage to domestic agriculture, including rice farming, is the most urgent issue. The government should reform its farming policy radically. Seoul should never repeat the mistakes it made after the Uruguay Round in 1994. In the past seven years, the government spent 42 trillion won ($32 billion) to remodel the structure of farming and fishing and 15 trillion won of special aid to support farmers and fishermen. The outcome was a disappointment - the importance of rice farming in domestic agriculture and the debts held by farming households increased rather than dropped. Rice accounted for over half of farm output last year, up from 38 percent in 1995. Rice farming areas per household, the barometer of industry's competitiveness, rose only from 0.9 hectare to 1 hectare during the same period - only a small improvement. Every year the government increased its rice purchase amounts and prices. Such measures played a significant role in the failure of farm policy.

Time is short. Our agriculture must change. As Japan did, we should reduce farm areas systematically and allow the market to determine rice prices in order to adjust to international competition. Seven years ago, domestic rice prices were three to four times higher than international prices; the difference is now five to six times. The government purchase program, which violates the WTO rules, should be phased out; subsidies to keep land idle should be considered.

We need high efficiency and environmentally friendly agriculture; there are possibilities in the specialized agriculture products now coming on the market. Increasing financial resources and reducing farm land are difficult tasks, but time is running out to make our agriculture competitive.
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