[EDITORIALS]Delaying the inevitableThe Cancun Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization, which could have affected the future of Korean agriculture, has ended without a final declaration. Korean farmers’ groups, which staged violent protests against the meeting, seem to be relieved at its collapse, like that of the last one in Seattle in 1999. It may be true, however, that the meeting has reconfirmed that the opening of the agricultural sector is an irrevocable trend.
Though the negotiations were postponed, there will be no change in the negotiation mechanism. The draft declaration, supported by industrialized countries and agricultural export countries, would reduce tariffs on farm products imposed by members, including developing countries. From the beginning, it was hard to imagine that the demands for gradual tariff reduction and exemption of the clause on compulsory import at low tariffs, supported by Korea, would be accepted.
There are worries that the breakdown of talks will hurt Korea’s prospects in the negotiations on rice. There was a proposal that some sensitive items be exempted from maximum tariff rates. But that has not been decided, and there remains the task of persuading participants to include rice on that list. Korea is still clinging to developing-country status, but most participants favor raising the bar for that status. For Korea, which has no free trade agreements, it means a much rougher road ahead to try to conduct bilateral agreements instead of a multilateral one.
It will be hard to move on to a new round of negotiations in 2006. We have even fewer friends than we had at the Uruguay Round. The war between the agricultural exporters and importers grows fiercer, and without drastic restructuring, Korea’s agricultural sector cannot survive.
The government must secure the competitiveness of the agricultural sector and achieve some gains at the follow-up negotiations. Persuading farmers will be even more difficult. If there is domestic confrontation, it will be hard to cope with outside pressure. The burdens from opening markets should not fall on farmers alone.