South Korea announced Friday that it decided to give up its developing country status at the World Trade Organization (WTO), which would strip the country off special treatment including tariffs on agricultural imports and agricultural subsidies. The decision is apparently based on the judgement that accepting the Trump administration’s demand to drop the status is in the national interest given a heap of pressing trade issues between the two countries. The defense cost-sharing talks have resumed while the United States is set to decide whether to impose tariffs on South Korean vehicles under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act.
In a way, Seoul’s decision was inevitable. Aside from President Donald Trump’s remarks in July calling for high-income countries to stop abusing the developing nation status, negotiating countries would have found it difficult to understand that South Korea still declares itself as a developing country, when it is a member of the G20 economies, a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and has a per capita national income of over 30,000 dollars. Taiwan and Brazil had already ditched the status, and the United Arab Emirates and Singapore also gave up the status following Trump’s pressure. The South Korean government is repeatedly stressing that its decision will not lead to a plummeting tariff on agricultural imports or a reduction in subsidies. Yet, the changed status will unavoidably affect the conditions in future negotiations on agriculture. This is why farmers are opposing the move.
Though the decision was made for the national benefit, the government should not unilaterally victimize the agriculture industry to have the upper hand in negotiating about other areas. Also, the government must cooperate with the agriculture sector and related experts to prepare for effective support measures.
In the meantime, the latest decision should also serve as a chance for farmers to take the agriculture sector to the next level. As the agriculture industry has abundant potential to turn into a future-oriented industry, it cannot just settle for tariff barriers and subsidies. There are many cases in which farmers sought smart agriculture by integrating advanced ICT and agriculture to pioneer broader markets around the world. As such, the government and farmers should put their heads together to develop the country’s agriculture to a globally competitive industry.