[EDITORIALS]Rice farmers hurt by inactionThe Korean government told the World Trade Organization yesterday that it will resume bilateral negotiations over the opening of the local rice market. Since Korea could no longer delay action under the schedule set up at the Uruguay Round, it now has to decide how much it will open up its market to rice-exporting countries such as the United States or China.
Considering the difficulties that Korean farmers are going through, the government cannot fully liberalize the rice market at once. On the other hand, as a country that lives on exports, Korea cannot defend the rice market and risk being ostracized.
Considering all these factors, it would be best for the Korean government to minimize the shock on the farmers and the agricultural industry to find ways that can eventually benefit the overall economy.
Korea is at a disadvantage in these talks. Unlike the free trade agreement, which Korea can reject if it does not like the conditions, opening the rice market is a binding pact. Now it is facing two critical choices: whether it should open the entire market while imposing high tariffs, or just open part of the market while importing a large amount of rice at low prices.
If it doesn’t conclude negotiations within this year, Korea will be considered to liberalize the rice market entirely, just as in Japan’s or Taiwan’s cases. There is no way out.
Korea, therefore, must prepare thoroughly. A consensus must be made domestically over which choice will cause less damage. Next come diplomatic flair and negotiation skills.
The government also must step up efforts to make farmers understand the current situation and farmers’ associations open their eyes to reality. As for politicians, they must not use the issue for their own purposes in the legislative elections in April.
We must make efforts to improve the competitiveness of the rural sector as well. We should cut the reliance of the Korean rural areas on rice farming and instead pursue branding of rice products.
Korea has wasted more than a decade since the Uruguay Round talks. Rural policies have been swayed by the political interests and reform has been delayed. We shouldn’t waste any more time or money.