[EDITORIALS]New Thinking Needed on Rice Policy

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[EDITORIALS]New Thinking Needed on Rice Policy

The Grain Distribution Committee, a consultancy of the minister of agriculture and forestry, voted on Friday after long debate for the government lower its rice-purchasing price by 4 to 5 percent next year. We believe the suggestion, which came soon after international agreement on a new round of trade talks that portends an extensive opening of the agriculture market, deserves sincere consideration and that the government must find a new way of survival for Korea's agricultural sector.

It was the first time since its establishment in 1988 that the committee has suggested cutting the rice-purchase price. The proposition instantly elicited strong resistance from farmers associations, including the Korea Farmers League. But as the timetable has been set for opening the rice market, we need to calm down and analyze the committee's desperate plan. It calls for initiatives to transform rice policies: lowering the government's purchase price to narrow the price gap between rice produced in Korea and imported rice; changing the way the government promotes the rice industry; increasing economies of scale in the industry, where three out of four households cultivate less than one hectare of land; and promoting production and distribution of high-quality rice.

We suggest that the government adopt the proposals and ditch the system by which it purchases rice every year, a subsidy frowned on by the World Trade Organization, and instead provide the subsidy directly to farmers based on the size of their arable lands. The direct subsidy should be coupled with government compensation for the losses that farmers incur when they grow other crops than rice.

We hope the Grain Distribution Committee's proposals will receive serious discussions by the government and the National Assembly. If politics get involved in the agricultural policies as has happened before, the bitter pill suggested by the committee will lose its effectiveness. Farmers associations also need to seek reasonable ways to resolve the differences while avoiding large-scale demonstrations. We cannot sustain our agriculture industry only with political theories or demonstrations.
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