Thinking outside the box
The three free trade agreements that Korean government has signed with China, Vietnam and New Zealand came into effect on Dec. 20. Korea now has free trade agreements with 52 countries. While the economic territory is expanding, Korea’s countryside, agriculture and farmers are faced with grave challenges. They need to seek ways to survive in the open market.
Generally, when an FTA comes into effect, industrial product makers benefit the most and farmers, fishermen and stock farms suffer the most in manufacturing industry-oriented countries like Korea. As one of the measures to counter the damage from the FTA with China, the government announced a plan to raise a 1 trillion won ($855 million) fund to support the farming and fishing industries. But it is criticized as a quasi-tax.
Trying to settle the damages to farmers by imposing a quasi-tax on companies or offering government subsidies is not a sustainable solution.
When FTAs are the general trend, Samsung executives, Hyundai Motors union members, urban workers and farmers are in fierce competition. In the era of high-speed information and communication technology, local is global, and global is local. Only active communication and connection with the world with “glocal” mind-set can bring a solution.
Here, we need to pay attention to a case. In time for the Korea-China FTA, 12 executives from nine rice import and distribution companies, including the state-owned China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corporation, visited Korea on Dec. 15 and 16 and toured rice production, processing and packaging facilities. From Dec. 23 to 27, four Chinese government inspectors visited six rice-producing regions in Korea, including Icheon, Gyeonggi, and examined the mills. Rice from Icheon was served to kings during the Joseon Dynasty. The FTA may be an opportunity to serve Icheon rice to the so-called little emperors of China. The little emperors are the children born during the one-child policy who grew up with increased spending power and have become the middle class.
Korean rice can have an edge in the Chinese market as Chinese people have more trust in Korean food safety than in their own products. They would be willing to pay a premium for quality products.
Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi entered the Korean market and their products are well-received for their good quality for the price. It is refreshing and innovative for China.
Let’s change the mind-set. We should not panic over inexpensive Chinese agricultural products or get addicted to subsidies. Let’s try and sell Korean rice as well as Samsung devices and Hyundai cars to the Chinese market. If we read the direction of the winds of the glocal era properly, windows of opportunities will open.
The author is an editor of regional news of JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 28, Page 34
by CHANG SE-JEONG