[LETTERS TO THE EDITOR]Pain on the way for farmers as rice market opens upNegotiations to open the Korean rice market are expected to begin soon and last through September, as the World Trade Organization demands Korea open its rice market starting next year. We are in a very disadvantageous position in the debate at the moment, since the opening is mandatory according to the WTO constitution. Actually, we have had a grace period of 10 years since 1994, and it will end at the end of this year. We have to choose either to open the rice market completely and impose high tariffs on imported rice, or to import large quantities of rice at low prices instead of a complete opening. No matter which we select, there is no doubt the farming industry will be hurt.
We can not negotiate the opening of our market aggressively, because Korean farmers are going through difficult times. But we must not be sidelined in the international transactions either, because Korea makes most of its money from international trade. Therefore, we should find out what the best way is to minimize the damage before negotiating.
First of all, it depends on our government's capacity for diplomacy and mediation. I hope the government will face reality and deal with the problem firmly. It’s also necessary to throw out the conventional belief that agriculture is the first industry to be preserved at any cost. We will not escape the problem of having to open the rice market if we only blame the government for failed agricultural policy. All Koreans should collaborate with one another, but the farming population should first try themselves to surmount the difficulties presented by the opening of the market.
Secondly, it's also a pressing problem that domestic produce should be competitive. Korean rice is five to six times more expensive than U.S. or Chinese rice. Even if our rice could survive for now through the imposition of high tariffs, in the long run, there is a high possibility that Korea’s negotiating partners would call for excessive concessions to reduce the imposed tax.
It augurs well for us that Japan, which has already opened its rice market, has succeeded in retaining its domestic customers by developing the quality and taste of its rice.
by Goh Byeong-eun