Agricultural woesAmong Korea’s industries, agriculture is expected to sustain the most serious damage from a free trade agreement with the United States. Farmers’ groups have opposed an FTA most fiercely, saying, “An FTA between Korea and the United States will bring about the utter collapse of local agriculture.” Protests are expected to continue until the National Assembly ratifies the pact.
But let’s lay aside the exaggerated damage estimates coming from both reckless FTA opponents and politicians who are using these people for political purposes.
After doing so, we will see there is only a small possibility that Korean agriculture will collapse or that farmers will be driven away from their jobs. Many experts in agricultural trade said that the results of the free trade talks with the United States were better than expected and that damage to farm households would not be so serious.
The government is already carrying out “comprehensive measures to develop local agriculture and farm villages” to make up for the losses and to improve their competitiveness. A budget of 119 trillion won ($127 billion) will be spent by 2014 on the project. In addition, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo and Agriculture Minister Park Hong-soo said the government will implement supplementary measures and expand the scale of assistance, if needed.
But unconditional financial support will not revive Korean agriculture. This is clear, as the Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung administrations poured 70 trillion won in total into helping farmers after the Uruguay round of global trade talks, but there are still concerns about the “collapse of local agriculture.”
The cash subsidies to farmers and superficial development projects left nothing but farm debts of astronomical sizes in their wake. Korea should not repeat such a failure.
To prevent this, the government should be cool-headed in evaluating the realities facing Korea’s agriculture industry and farm villages. An industry led by petty farmers will never be globally competitive, regardless of how much money the government pours into the projects.
It is also a problem that the government and consumers subsidize farming production costs by paying four to five times more than international prices for some products because they are grown in Korea.
In the future, support for agriculture and farm villages should come in a form that improves the competitiveness of categories that have the possibility of survival.