[FORUM]Frank talk to farmers is neededOne of the complaints people seem to have these days is that it’s just too hard to understand anything anymore. Please explain things so that we can understand better, they plead. Ambiguous words make one suspect one’s own ears and suspect the intent of the speaker. Too many things happen these days that one can make neither heads nor tails of. Think of the confusion of the people who would be standing with one foot on the sidewalk and the other on the road if the color of traffic signs were neither green nor red.
In the same way, when the words and deeds of a country’s leaders are not clear, the people of that country are left stranded, clueless, on the streets. The “traffic signs” of labor unions, education policies and other national issues have left many people complaining about not being sure of the color, so they are forced to confirm it before crossing the road. The hopeless feeling of watching legislators of the governing and opposition parties in the National Assembly, who seem to be in utter bewilderment over the direction in which they will lead government policies, has reached its limit.
The dishonesty and duplicity of political leaders over agricultural policies have already reached an uncurable state. The rice market will open in earnest in six months’ time. No matter how hard Korea might try diplomatically, there is no changing the negotiated dates for opening the market under World Trade Organization rules. Yet, several legislators are publicly speaking in opposition to the opening of the rice market, demanding that the government stop the process. These legislators come from agricultural regions and the motive behind their action is to gain more votes. We must realize that such behavior of politicians, prompted by their calculations for the general elections due next spring, could pose serious problems to agriculture and our rural community.
Legislators have frozen the government’s purchasing price for rice, which it had intended to lower. That is because the politicians would lose the votes of rice producers if they agreed to the price reduction. The National Assembly also has postponed the ratification of the free trade agreement with Chile that was concluded with such difficulty.
The legislators have not shown any visible efforts to persuade the farmers to accept the unavoidable. They have neglected to tell the farmers of the problems that actions against the opening of the rice market could bring to the agricultural sector and how they could seriously affect Korea’s international competitiveness. They have neglected to study the ways of solving the household debt problem prevalent in the agricultural sector and the opening of the rice market. This is a shameful neglect of duty.
There are only incomprehensible debates going on about the problems that the agricultural sector faces. The time to make a decision has come and yet no one is doing anything about it. It might be that the general elections will end up suffocating and contorting the future of the agricultural policies. No one can tell what these politicians are up to. Legislators are too busy hiding from meetings dealing with the schedule for opening the market. The heads of the local autonomous governments are also trying to save their own skins. Meanwhile, time is ticking away. Who will be responsible for the market-opening policies that we will be forced to choose in the end for lack of time? Who will take responsibility for the chaos and economic damage caused by a market opening that had never been properly prepared for? Isn’t there anyone who is willing to talk frankly to the farmers about the opening of the market?
One truly hopes that Kim Young-jin, the agriculture minister, will become more earnest in fulfilling his duties. Mr. Kim has shown a remarkable change by lowering the purchase price for the autumn harvest grain and calling for a systemic response to the opening of the agricultural market 10 years after he opposed the opening of the rice market at the WTO negotiations in Geneva in 1993 by shaving his head.
We still remember that the leader of a farmers’ group, who tried to commit suicide in Geneva during the talks, confessed later that he had been too ignorant of the affairs of the world.
It is still uncertain whether Mr. Kim has what it takes to establish the necessary agricultural policies in a firm manner. However, his actions so far should be enough for legislators to learn from, and cause them to turn from their pointless opposition to the opening of the rice market and think of what is truly best for the farmers.
What our legislators need most is the ability to tell it like it is.
* The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Choi Chul-joo