[EDITORIALS]Strong Action on Agriculture Needed

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[EDITORIALS]Strong Action on Agriculture Needed

The World Trade Organization ministerial meeting, held in Doha, Qatar, over the last four days, had great difficulties overcoming conflicting interests among member countries in a bid to launch a new round of global trade negotiations. Regardless of the result of the ministerial conference, Korea should accelerate its effort to design measures against the new round of trade liberalization talks.

The Korean government's major goals in the trade talks were the prevention of further expansion of access to agricultural markets and the restrictions on developed countries' abuse of anti-dumping measures. But the outcome was unsatisfactory in general. Regarding the mode of agricultural market opening, the WTO ministerial declaration adopted "substantial," the word favored by food exporters, instead of "progressive," the term favored by Korea. Korea sought to have the declaration prescribe an immediate launch of negotiations on anti-dumping rules, but to no avail. The declaration was aimed at substantial reductions in tariffs on industrial goods and improvements in investment and competition. These items are terms advantageous to Korea, since the nation's degree of dependence on foreign trade, or the ratio of exports and imports to national income, is higher than 80 percent.

We have partners in negotiations, which means we must compromise. The results of the WTO negotiations are both favorable and unfavorable for Korea. Accordingly, Korea must devise a structure and strategies to minimize losses and maximize gains under the upcoming new round of trade talks. The government should strengthen its negotiation ability and tactics to reflect Korea's interests as much as possible in the follow-up negotiations, which will cover tariffs and other issues in detail. After analyzing the WTO negotiation results in the manufacturing and services sectors, the government should restructure those sectors and allocate resources to maximize the competitiveness of those industries.

The immediate step the government should take is a measure regarding the nation's agricultural sector. The launch of a new round of trade liberalization talks will inevitably trigger a significant expansion of access to the agricultural products market after 2004. Korea has protected major cereals, including rice, the staple food of Koreans, with high tariffs. Those agricultural products' prices are high compared with the global average because of the protection of high tariffs. Since opening these markets is unavoidable, the government should draft new agricultural policies and plans.

The policy of supporting rice farming through price stabilization by government purchases and encouraging increases in yields needs to be changed. Farmers have demonstrated repeatedly, though the government has poured more than 50 trillion won ($38.5 billion) of taxpayers' money into the agricultural sector, since the settlement of the Uruguay Round in 1994. Korea's rice stockpiles equal a third of the nation's annual consumption. Now is the time for Korea to shift to an agricultural policy focused on quality, select internationally competitive products, develop economic farming units and educate farmers. Politicians, businessmen, academics and civil servants should cooperate to restructure the nation's industries, including the agricultural sector, with the people's consent. Bipartisan cooperation is necessary, because the current government, hampered by its lame duck status, will encounter farmer opposition.
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