Posted November. 24, 2005 08:29,
The National Assembly passed a bill yesterday ratifying the outcome of the rice negotiations, which has been a source of much controversy. Korea will thereby delay the full opening of its rice market by another 10 years. In return, it must import 225,575 tons of rice this year, with the amount gradually increasing to 408,700 tons by 2014 and onward.
Korea is no longer allowed to channel the imported rice to the processing sector and must make 10 percent of imports available for retail sale this year. The figure is to rise to 30 percent. This means that by next March or April, rice from the U.S. or China will be sold at supermarkets or discount stores, and ultimately reach the dining tables of Korean homes.
Farmer groups and other opponents of the bill have urged the National Assembly to postpone the ratification until after the World Trade Organization Doha Development Agenda (DDA) negotiations, which are scheduled to be held from December 13 to 18. However, the DDA talks are unlikely to proceed in a direction favorable to Korea, and it is difficult for Korea to expect to receive developing country status. Korea may come under pressure to fully open the rice market and face litigation from the WTO if it drags its feet on this issue and fails to deliver on its rice import pledges this year. The resulting losses would far outweigh the gains for Korea, which became the worlds 10th largest trader this year, up a notch from 11th place.
Resistance from farmers--which led to violent protests--should be seen as complaint against not only the amount of rice Korea has to import but also the failure of the countrys overall farm policy. What farmers are really resisting is the gap between urban and farming areas, highlighted by the increasing farming and fishing household debt, huge amount of imports of cheap agricultural goods such as those of China, and a lack of educational and cultural benefits for rural areas. Farmers need a dramatic policy that will help soothe their worries and grief.
The governments plans in operation, such as the Revive Rural Areas 10-year plan, and the Enhance the Quality of Life of Rural Areas 5-year plan, should focus on fundamental agriculture restructuring rather than compensation for the market opening.
It has been reported that over 2,000 members of farmer groups have booked plane tickets and lodging to hold anti-WTO rallies in Hong Kong next month. Whether the protests can yield real effects remains to be seen, however. The protests could lead to unfortunate events in Hong Kong, where, unlike Korea, illegal rallies are strictly clamped down on.
The agricultural market opening is an unavoidable trend. Discussions regarding the market opening and possible preparatory measures should take place on the negotiating table, not the streets, and in a productive, not destructive way. The 10 years Korea has until the full rice market opening is not a long time.