[EDITORIALS]No way to stop the tideThe draft declaration of the 5th World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Cancun, Mexico, indicates that the opening of agricultural market is imminent. Although the text of the declaration will be modified in the course of debate, Korea’s agricultural sector will be under even more pressure because of lower tariffs on imports, restrictions on government subsidies and the wider range of imports that must be allowed. The shock to farmers will come faster and be worse than it was after the Uruguay Round.
Despite desperate efforts, such as the suicide of Lee Kyeong-hae, former president of the Korean Agricultural Management Association, it seems that Korea’s influence in this conference is limited. We have to recognize the reality calmly, prepare measures to minimize the damage to our farmers and accelerate the opening of markets in industrialized countries for our manufactured goods.
We must concentrate now on keeping developing-country status for our agriculture in both multilateral and bilateral negotiations. Korea is an industrial power, so that will not be easy. Also, because Korea levies tariffs of over 100 percent on well over a hundred agricultural products, the shock to our agricultural sector would be great even if we could retain that developing-country status. And in separate talks on rice trade, we have to mobilize all our diplomatic prowess to have our demands accepted.
As the trend toward market opening accelerates, being competitive is the only way to survive. Over the past 10 years, the government poured tens of trillions of won into agriculture, but the competitiveness of the sector has deteriorated, not improved. The government must provide more fundamental reforms such as developing substitute farm products and high-quality plants, and expand investment in welfare, medical and educational services in rural areas. It must also strengthen its efforts to make farmers understand the inevitability of market opening. Politicians should no longer abuse rural issues for political purposes, but join hands in an effort to find a way for Korean farmers to survive.