[EDITORIALS]Farmers must adaptThe chances are practically nil that the National Assembly will be able to ratify the Korean government’s agreement with the World Trade Organization on opening up Korea’s rice market during its temporary sessions in June. This is because farmers’ groups are protesting vigorously ― uprooting their rice paddies, setting fire to farming equipment and blockading shipments of rice. Because of this, both the governing and opposition parties have changed their minds and decided to ignore the matter for the time being. The Assembly has until the end of the year to ratify the agreement, but it is not as though they can wait indefinitely until the farmers’ anger subsides.
There is always an aftermath to trade negotiations. But in the process of these negotiations, the government made a variety of mistakes, big and small, that amplified the farmers’ anger. The government’s announcements that it would not link rice negotiations with other issues have become a laughing matter. The explanation that there were no “hidden” agreements, just “additional” ones, is a lame excuse. Discontent combined with distrust is bound to worsen the situation.
However, farmers’ groups are not making the situation any better with their unconditional protests. It needn’t be said that group demonstrations and hunger strikes are not solutions either, while demands to renegotiate are also unreasonable. The farmers should realize that we can’t completely ignore the other side’s request to achieve the goal of keeping a quota system.
Rice has a special meaning in Korea, and that is important. But we must also consider that Korea is one of the top 10 trading countries in the world, and that the doors of the agricultural market cannot be kept shut. This is not the time for farmers to gear up against the government. Instead, they should be putting their heads together, since competitiveness is the only solution in an open-market era. Farmers need to change their way of thinking and consider the government an ally, not a target ― their real competitors are farmers overseas.
In the past 10 years, Korea has spent 70 trillion won ($69 billion) on restructuring the agricultural system, but farms are still in debt. If the government starts giving out handouts for political reasons, the failures of the past will be repeated. Politicians and the government must create more comprehensive solutions to the farmers’ problems. Only detailed solutions will convince farmers, and perhaps provide a shortcut to ratification of the rice deal as well.