[VIEWPOINT]Farmers’ efforts foul up talks

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[VIEWPOINT]Farmers’ efforts foul up talks

As the National Assembly gets ready for yet another vote on the free trade agreement with Chile on Feb. 16, it is feared that the Korean Peasants League will stage another violent demonstration in front of the National Assembly.
The largest farmers organization in the country is also joining forces with other civil groups to oppose the opening of the rice market. But these street protests not only weaken Korea’s position in trade talks over imposing tariffs on rice but also ruin the country’s credibility in the international community.
There are certain rules to follow when negotiating further suspensions of rice tariffs. In the Uruguay Round in 1995, rice was excluded from tariffs for 10 years. In order to extend the tariff suspension, Korea had to bilaterally discuss with each rice exporter to schedule the opening of the rice market.
The United States and other rice exporters will agree to continue to suspend tariffs on Korean rice only if they see more profit in adjusting the minimum market access than they would otherwise earn under the open market with tariffs.
With Korea’s position at the talks table so weakened, the protests only give the exporting countries more of an advantage. Assuming that Korean officials want to prevent the market from opening and tariffs at all costs, they will ask for more concessions in minimum market access. The farmers’ protests will result in revealing Korea’s negotiation strategy and goals regardless of their original intentions.
The protests lack justification even on the domestic front. The citizens already understand the seriousness and importance of opening the rice market to exports. Negotiators in the government have been troubled over the rice issue for years, and in the ongoing negotiations of the Doha Development Agenda, the government has held fast to the principle of protecting the agricultural sector.
Of 148 members of the World Trade Organization, Korea probably is the most stubborn about opening agricultural markets. Instead of staging demonstrations, the farmers would get better results by helping the government set the negotiation tactics that may bring more favorable results. The farmers’ plan to hold a demonstration at the National Assembly makes us doubt the their sincerity.
There have been ample discussions over the free trade agreement with Chile, and assembly members have heard both sides’ arguments over and over. The time has come for the National Assembly to make the decision, especially because the free trade agreement with Chile does not even include the opening of the rice market.
In the age of globalization and technology, the world immediately learns about events that happen in Korea. The farmers organization should stay calm and open-minded so that their actions don’t cause unintended damage to the national interest and confidence.

* The writer is a deputy director-general in charge of free trade agreement affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Han-soo
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