[EDITORIALS]Don’t waste the next 10 yearsThe ongoing negotiations on the terms of opening Korea’s rice market have all but come to an end, with only the agreement waiting to be forwarded to the World Trade Organization. The government has agreed to increase its mandatory purchase amount, while delaying full opening of the market for 10 more years.
While rice farmers and agricultural interest groups are opposing the deal, we must and we should accept this agreement. Unless Korea breaks away from the world trade order and returns to being a self-supporting economy, we cannot put off forever the opening of our rice market.
The problem is how to spend the remaining 10 years before the full opening of the market. Our government’s agriculture policies during the 10-year moratorium on rice imports since the 1994 Uruguay Round have failed. We have poured some 70 trillion won ($66 billion) into the agricultural sector ― yet our competitiveness in this has not improved. Only farm household debts have increased. We cannot afford to waste another decade.
The government has presented a master plan to spend some 119 trillion won over the next 10 years to assist the farmers in preparing for the opening of the market. This is 50 percent more than the amount spend during the last 10 years. Pouring money into farms, however, will not solve everything. We have witnessed clearly the evils and moral hazard of unconditional assistance and pork-barrel debt redemptions.
Now, the government should direct its agricultural policies towards promoting the farming industry, not farming households. Instead of supporting crops that stand little chance against foreign competition, it should concentrate on providing the farmers of these crops with the means to convert to other crops or industries and acquire a stable living without leaving their homes.
Already, several local autonomous groups have begun to examine ways to revive their local economies by concentrating on developing particular regional specialties. Some regions are connecting their specialized products with tourism, or are taking advantage of the “well-being” fad that is sweeping the country.
From now on, the government should use our money to support economically smart industries, such as these regional development projects. Investments that ignore efficiency will only lead to more debt.