[LETTERS TO THE EDITOR]Managing rice imports

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[LETTERS TO THE EDITOR]Managing rice imports

The negotiations to open the Korean rice market are expected to take place soon with other World Trade Organization members; they will last until September as the trade body demands that we should open our rice market beginning next year.
We are in a very disadvantageous position in the debate at the moment as the opening is mandatory according to international trade rules. 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 Korean rice market completely and impose high tariffs on the imported rice or to import large quantities of rice at a cheap price instead of the complete opening.
We cannot 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 the best way to minimize the damage before negotiating.
I hope the government will face reality and deal with the problem firmly. It’s also necessary for people to throw out their thinking that agriculture is an industry to be preserved at any cost. The farm population should try to surmount the difficulties presented by the opening of the market, with help from other sectors.
Secondly, 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 by the imposition of high tariffs, in the long run it is likely that Korea’s negotiating partners would call for excessive concessions or for us to reduce the tax.
It augers well for us that Japan, which already opened its rice market, has succeeded in retaining domestic customers by developing the quality and taste of their rice, which leads in its domestic market.
I don’t believe we have wasted the 10-year grace period. But it is true that we don’t have an agricultural strategy with which to prepare for the impact of the new trade rules.
Our government should keep in mind when managing the debate not to vacillate and so lose the confidence of the Korean people. I want them to participate in the negotiations after determining the most advantageous measures to protect the fragile agricultural industry and local farmers.

by Goh Byung-eon
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