[EDITORIALS]Procrastination policy on rice

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[EDITORIALS]Procrastination policy on rice

The government policy on rice farming announced Thursday spells out an overall goal, but falls short of being as "comprehensive" as it claims to be, because of weaknesses in how the plan will be implemented.

The Agriculture Ministry's plan does identify the industry's problems and the improvements needed as we await the multilateral negotiations for further rice market opening in 2004. But it also demonstrates that the eight years since the World Trade Organization's Uruguay Round talks have been spent on distorting market prices with populist price increases through government purchases of rice. While Japan and Taiwan prepared for greater market opening by lowering prices, Seoul's measures have only lessened our farm industry's ability to compete. Our diet has changed, and consumption of rice continues to fall. But farmers choose to remain in what is a lucrative industry for them, but one requiring ever greater subsidy. We see th recognition of the vicious cycle in the plan to reduce rice farmland by 12 percent by 2005.

The question is how the plan will tackle the issues. There is a limit to how much a cut in subsidy to noncore farming areas will encourage farmers to abandon rice farming or reduce output. Compensation was announced to maintain income for farmers who will grow crops other than rice, but there have been few takers. Contrary to expectation, subsidies for environmentally friendly farming, which helps reduce output, have been reduced.

Other measures regarded as effective in cutting rice production income subsidies and government stockpiling at market price will be postponed for another two years. Market-price stockpiling, in particular, which will buy from farmers at a lower price than the current system of government acquisition, was something the government has advocated since the World Trade Organization's Doha talks last year. But it is being shelved because of farmers' protests. Political consideration was no doubt a part of that decision. But the government must understand that the expected rice market opening will not wait just because the government wants to delay taking action. Nor will procrastination resolve the fundamental problems of our rice farming industry.
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