[REPORTER'S DIARY]Globalizing Chicken and Garlic"This does not mean that the ban will be completely lifted. Please take care to say in your reports that we are simply relaxing a portion of the restrictions."
Officials at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry emphasized repeatedly to reporters that Thursday's partial lifting of the ban on imports of Chinese poultry products does not amount to the government relinquishing its position on Chinese poultry infected with "bird flu."
But the tone assumed by the officials Thursday was in sharp contrast to the determined position taken early last month when they said that the ministry was not prepared to compromise the health and safety of the people. That was following the imposition of a ban on imports of poultry from China on June 4 based on evidence of avian flu in imported duck meat.
On Thursday, the agriculture ministry explained that the ban remains in place on fowl from two regions of China where the virus continues to be found. But trade analysts said that if samples from the two regions cease to show signs of the virus, the government will be hard-pressed to find reasons to maintain the ban, if just on grounds of equity with the other regions.
Analysts have voiced concern about the possibility of another trade dispute with China. In the last three months, a minor trade war of sorts has brewed after China threatened to slap restrictions on imports from Korea if Korea did not buy more Chinese garlic. The analysts are concerned that 4,000 tons of poultry could turn out to be another roadblock to exports to the giant market.
The ministry said it will stand by its position that inspecting for the virus is not a question of fair trade. Prime Minister Lee Han-dong told Chinese officials during his visit last month that this should not turn into a trade issue but should be treated as a technical issue arising from standard customs inspections. It was only 20 days ago that, in response to a complaint by the Chinese government that it was unfair to stop all imports based on a problem that exists only in a few regions, the government invited the Chinese to visit Korea and look at the inspection records.
But the agriculture ministry started to get nervous at a report that the Chinese had begun an anti-dumping investigation into imports of lysine from Korea, which they took to be a sign that a trade war could be looming. That is when the government, a month after its imposition, quietly tried to lift the ban on the poultry, justifying its actions by saying that there was no more evidence of the virus. Later, an official would be more frank. He said the ban was removed because of pressure from the Chinese.
Globalization is in progress, but, as the world economy continues to go through difficult times and international trade starts to fall, there are signs of protectionist moves. The garlic incident and now the poultry issue remind us that, on questions of external affairs when another country is involved, we must implement multifaceted and comprehensive analysis and preparation that take into account concerns and circumstances both domestic and on the other side of the border.
The writer is a reporter at the JoongAng Ilbo
by Hong Byeong-gee