[EDITORIALS]Heads in the sand on trade

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[EDITORIALS]Heads in the sand on trade

Of course major national issues should be discussed, and we have not had enough public discussion of agricultural issues. That is why several recent comments by Park Yong-sung, chairman of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, caught our eye. He has been thinking a lot about opening our agriculture markets to outside competition.

Mr. Park told reporters Thursday, "Our national interest demands more flexibility in opening agricultural markets, including the rice market." He is again emphasizing a familiar theme of his -- comparative advantage in trade. He proposed in March, "In order to be prepared for the World Trade Organization international trade negotiations, we should publicly discuss the opening of agricultural markets, which are the core of the free trade agreement." Agricultural groups were aghast, and Mr. Park took some abuse from them. But we think his comments were quite appropriate.

Agricultural issues are sensitive for all of us, but nobody has dared to publicly talk about them even though we all recognize the inevitability of opening our market to more food imports. One of the reasons that we recently had a fuss over whether or not we should lift the safeguard measure against garlic from China is the lack of discussion of the matter. If the Chinese retaliate and we lose more in exports of cellular phones to China than we gain in keeping Chinese garlic out, the government should say so frankly and look for other ways to cushion the impact on garlic farmers.

As 2004, the end of these trade negotiations, draws near, we still have no national consensus on market opening. Even the controversial system of setting a government rice purchase price with the National Assembly's consent has not yet been abolished. Since this is an election year, we will waste a lot of time on politicking, and there will be little time to look for ways to make market opening easier. Farmers don't want to discuss it, but we cannot postpone it forever.

However heated the discussion may become, let's get on with it. We need to hear from everyone; only then can we build a consensus and decide on a policy.

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