[TODAY] Winning on the garlic battlefield

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[TODAY] Winning on the garlic battlefield

Four of the five biggest garlicproducing
regions in Korea are in South Jeolla province. The other
is in South Gyeongsang province.

The National Assembly members that represent the four garlic
regions in South Jeolla province are all of the Millennium
Democratic Party. This is the background of the 밽arlic fight봶ith China and 밽arlic politics봞mong political parties. It began with China뭩 garlic exports to Korea. In 1996, Chinese garlic imports reached 2,900 metric tons.

Jumping nearly twofold every year, they rose to 9,900 metric
tons in 1998. In 1999, they reached 22,000 metric tons.
Meanwhile, the price of domestic-grown garlic fell by one-third.

With the National Assembly election ahead in early 2000, the garlic regions?legislators decided that they could not just sit around doing nothing. So they pressed the government for a solution and began what is known as the
mighty 밽arlic lobby.?In November 1999, the government
raised the tariff rate 뼎 then 30 percent 뼎 on Chinese garlic to 315 percent. The following June, it was decided that the tariff rate would hold for three years. China
retaliated immediately by stopping all imports of Korea뭩 cellular phones and polyethylene.

It is estimated that raising the tariff on garlic cost China some $15 million. China뭩 retaliation cost Korea $500 million. Korea took the bigger hit and immediately
proposed negotiations with China. At the conclusion of the
negotiations, it was decided that China should lift the import ban on Korean goods. In return, it was agreed that Korea was to apply the 315 percent tariff on garlic imports only until the end of 2002 and all tariffs would be lifted on Chinese garlic from 2003.

Considering the issue of garlic only, it would seem that we
had given in on China뭩 onesided demand. However, in our
negotiations, we had to consider the Korea-China trade in its entirety and especially keep in mind that the cellular phone market in China generated a demand of more than 30 million new phones every year. In this sense, Han Duck-soo, the trade minister at the time of the negotiations, was right in saying that the agreement with China was in accord
with our national interest.

However, secretly placing the agreement on lifting all trade tariffs on Chinese garlic import from 2003 in a supplementary attachment, tricking the garlic farmers
and the public on the result and neglecting to take measures to restructure garlic farms and raise their competitiveness was very irresponsible and deceitful. The
heated exchanges between government agencies, blaming one
another, that followed the publication of the news was even more disgusting.

What is important now is not offering excuses or finding scapegoats. Let the fact that the negotiators at that time are no longer in office suffice in establishing culpability.
What is more urgent is to set up a strategy for negotiations
that will save our garlic farms and still not lose our share
of China뭩 market. This will not be an easy task. We might fail even though we muster all the wisdom of the nation. There is about a zero percent chance that we will convince China to let us extend our high tariff rate on its garlic exports into 2003 and beyond. It is preposterous for the
Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to claim that it did not set up long-term plans for the garlic farms because it believed that China would give in after further negotiations.

It is hard to forget the shock we felt when China denied us
$500 million in exports in manufactured goods as a retaliation over the loss of $15 million of garlic imports.

If the politicians and media continue fighting among
themselves, as if they have completely forgotten what has happened in the meantime, and the government agencies continue pointing fingers at each other, our negotiating capacity with China will be weakened. Should China see our present state, it would smile in relief and think, 밯ell, I
guess this is it.?
What is the impact of a supplementary attachment to a garlic
agreement compared with the damage we would receive should
a major trade conflict occur between China and Korea? The
truth is, President Kim Daejung뭩 administration had indeed
bowed low to China on the Dalai Lama뭩 proposed visit to Korea and the fisheries agreement. That is probably why the government is suspected of having given in to the Chinese again, although the results of the 2000 garlic negotiations
were probably the best that could have been reached, considering the situation.

However, we cannot let our emotions blur our judgment on
what is more important. The garlic agreement has turned into a problem that will decide the fate of our manufactured exports, which bring billions of dollars
into the nation.

The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng
Ilbo.
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