[EDITORIALS]Difficulties at WTO talksAt the World Trade Organization Fifth Ministerial Conference in Cancun, Mexico, international demands to open agricultural markets are expected to surge. Since the differences of opinion between the developing and advanced countries and nations that are importers and exporters of agricultural products are large, it is difficult to predict how much progress will be made. Regardless of the outcome of the meeting, however, opening the market is the trend. Korea’s agricultural sector, which is protected by government subsidies, such as the government’s purchase of rice from farmers, and high tariffs on imports, will be unavoidably hit hard.
Korea will be in the difficult position of pursuing two goals at the same time. It should try to open the doors to the agricultural sector minimally while trying to open the doors to the manufacturing sector, which has much more weight in our economy, to the maximum, so that it can increase its exports of industrial goods. Therefore, it needs more sophisticated logic, a proactive negotiating posture and international cooperation.
Korea should do its best to lead the talks on the agricultural sector to the benefit of developing countries. Korea also must explain the difficulties its agricultural sector is facing so that it will be treated as a developing country at the next meeting. Although it will not be easy for South Korea, which is the 11th largest trading country, to be recognized as a developing country, it should be accomplished. And it is necessary to designate some products, like rice, as “strategic products” to be excluded from opening. If the Doha Development Agenda fails to be finalized by Jan.1, 2005, market opening is supposed to be decided by a bilateral agreement. In that case, Korea, which has no free trade agreements with other countries, will be in a difficult position. The Korea-Chile free trade agreement and the Korea-U.S. mutual investment agreement should be concluded quickly. At the same time, measures for boosting the competitiveness of the agricultural sector should be promoted. Farmers and civic groups must help the government find a way for the sector’s survival.