[EDITORIALS]Unreasonable protestsA few thousand members of the Korean Peasants League, the nation’s farmers’ body, occupied Seoul’s bridges and roads yesterday to protest negotiations on opening the rice market. The surprise rallies paralyzed traffic in many areas of Seoul. Seoul residents are no longer sympathetic to the farmers, who have been staging violent rallies by occupying bridges and roads, and hindering their daily activities.
The farmers are opposed to the negotiations to open the nation’s rice market and the policies of the World Trade Organization. Stated simply, they do not want Korea’s rice market opened to imports.
But it is time to seriously think about the persuasiveness of that argument to many of the people other than rice farmers.
Last week, the farmers rallied at the venue of a public discussion session on the issue, forcing a cancellation of the event. What do they want, when they are not willing to sit down to talk and not willing to acknowledge negotiations that the government has to engage in under international obligations?
Since the Uruguay Round negotiations on the agricultural sector, we have repeatedly pointed out that South Korea’s agricultural policy has failed for the past decade. The government has spent 70 trillion won ($66 billion) in the past decade in preparation for the rice market opening, but all the nation is left with is reduced agricultural competitiveness and snowballing debts of farm households.
The government is not the only party responsible for this situation. Farmers are also largely responsible. We understand the desperate situation of the rice farmers, facing the market opening. But, the opening of the rice market was announced 10 years ago.
Since then, an enormous amount of public funds has been poured into the farming sector, and the entire nation has consumed domestic rice at prices five times higher than the international market price without a word of complaint. At this point, Korea produces more than enough rice to feed the country, and the excess supply has been rotting inside warehouses for many years.
Ignoring reality and staging unreasonable rallies will never resolve any problem. Farmers must face the cold reality now. The government should also provide practical alternatives to assist the farmers, rather than wasting precious money. Unreasonable demands and protest rallies will never earn public support.