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Rice Deal Approval
The Korea Times
Despite the government`s wishes, the parliament is unlikely to ratify Seoul`s rice market-opening agreements with nine countries by June 30. Neither the opposition nor governing parties will be able to ignore the violent acts of refusal by farmers throughout the country. Next Tuesday, 100,000 peasants will gather in front of the National Assembly to block any move to approve the deal. Having repeated this after every farming deal over the past decade, when will Korea learn from its experiences? Much of the blame belongs with the government. Its biggest mistake was making a bargain without a consensus on even basic points. The agreement calls for doubling minimum rice imports over the next 10 years in return for delaying complete import liberalization until then. But some people still doubt whether this is any better than fully opening the market under prohibitive tariffs. Views also differ over the urgency of wrapping up the deal within this year.

Officials might say that it is too late to start all over, and that renegotiation is impossible. Indeed, that¡¯s precisely why they should have proceeded with greater caution and more thorough preparation in the first place. These officials should not have bound themselves to a single self-imposed goal and deadline as a bargaining strategy. The undue haste, combined with excessive secrecy, have led to various additional concessions, which in turn has resulted in deepening the farmers distrust in government negotiators.

The ruling and opposition lawmakers are still at odds over whether these were just extra concessions or backstage deals. However one describes them, at stake is whether these concessions in other farm products were really inevitable as well as why the government has kept them secret. The officials say these were the minimum prices Korea could pay for second 10-year waiver on its full rice market opening. And details of extra concessions could not be made public during bargaining.

Still, this appears to reflect their lack of confidence in negotiating. Every agricultural product, such as fruits or poultry, is lifeblood for the grower that should not be bartered away with rice. Korean negotiators should have revealed the progress and even used the farmers opposition as bargaining chips, as their foreign counterparts often do. It is little surprise farmers are convinced the government has always sacrificed agriculture in favor of other sectors, and other farm products in favor of rice.

Now that the parliamentary approval has been put off to the September plenary session, the government should reveal all and discuss countermeasures with farmers. The foremost task is how to enhance agricultural competitiveness based on full trust between the government and industry.
MGR Archive 23.6.2005
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Region Type Price  
Russia Rapan $ 700
USA Jupiter Rice $630
USA Calrose #1 $830
USA Calrose #1 Paddy $480
EU Prices Baldo €660
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