[Letter to the editor]To survive FTA, adapt and specialize

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[Letter to the editor]To survive FTA, adapt and specialize

There’s a lot of noise being made in Korea and the United States about the free trade agreement. Outside on the streets, a lot of people are demonstrating, voicing their opinions about the FTA. Most of those who are opposed to the Korea-U.S. FTA are farmers, because the agreement will get rid of quotas, and imported U.S. agricultural products will be cheaper than domestic goods.
In my opinion, however, farmers should stop their demonstrations, go with the international economic flow and be prepared. Korean farmers will definitely need to give up the production of goods which don’t have market power. And they need to change their marketing strategy.
First, people should decide whether to give up or not. We are now living under a free market economic system. Inside the free market, prices and quantity of production are decided by supply and demand.
Therefore, individuals, companies and countries should nurture products that are in high demand to maximize their profits. However, Korean agricultural products are relatively expensive, with no outstanding features.
For example, let’s compare Korean ginseng and apples. Korean ginseng has worldwide popularity, made possible by marketing strategies and a high-quality product. Although there is a lot of imported Chinese ginseng, most Koreans prefer to buy native Korean ginseng.
In contrast, the apple market is not monopolistic but competitive. Even though several regions have made a specialty of apple production, without substantial change in quality, consumers are likely to buy cheaper imported ones.
In other words, if a product cannot compete, it is better to give it up and search for another product to nurture on our fertile land.
Secondly, given the time until lawmakers ratify the agreement, farmers should change their marketing strategy to survive in the age of an FTA with the United States.
Imported goods may have almost the same quality as Korean products, with lower prices. Therefore, to win the competition Korean products should promote their innate specialties compared to others. For example, Koreans are likely to buy goods which have high name-brand value, even though the prices are high. My advice is to use this characteristic of the Korean market. If the product is beef, make a prestigious brand of it.
However, it is important to show why the brand deserves high prices; we should invest in new facilities for cattle-raising and new feeds to make higher-quality beef. If this idea comes true, sales of imported beef from the United States will feel the pressure.
Just like others, I also understand how farmers are feeling. However, in this globalized world, the Korea-U.S. FTA would bring more economic wealth and political advantages to our nation. This advantage is not for those who shout and do nothing; it is for those who are prepared for the new system. Be prepared. That is the answer to the challenge of the FTA.
Lee Sang-oun, Seoul
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