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More on the South Korean Farmers



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The protesters in the streets of Wan Chai are mostly South Korean rice farmers who despise the WTO because under its agreements South Korea has gradually lowered its rice tariffs, allowing the import of cheaper rice from China and giving some price relief to South Koreans who still pay far above the world average for rice. Despite the gains realized under the WTO agriculture agreement of 1995, the South Korean rice market remains one of the most protected in the world. The South Korean government pays billions of dollars in subsidies to its rice farmers each year. The debate over whether to liberalize South Korea’s rice market isn’t just happening in the WTO, where South Korea is joined by the EU and the U.S. as one of a handful of rich countries whose subsidies depress prices and limit opportunities for farmers in the third world. It’s also happening in Seoul, where politicians have to weigh the demands of the farmers against the needs of consumers and other budget priorities. Time Asia’s Michael Schuman summed up the debate quite well in an article last November:

Is a farm a business, or is it a museum for maintaining a dying lifestyle? That philosophical question may sound odd, but it goes to the heart of the acrimonious debate over agricultural subsidies. From France to South Korea, the government handouts and trade protection that developed countries offer their farmers to protect them against cheap imported food continue to stymie global efforts to open markets to less-fettered trade.
The ironic thing is, the South Korean farmers who are attacking police and protesting the WTO are joined in the streets by a ragtag bunch of American and European lefties who support their cause. This contingent either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that they are fighting alongside a coddled special interest group from a country with a trillion-dollar economy — more, an interest group fighting to maintain a policy that contributes to the poverty of peasant farmers in China and Vietnam who have no alternatives.

The West African cotton farmers hurt by U.S. cotton subsidies have become a cause c



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