Wednesday, September 06, 2006

US ROK FTA - One Arugument For

In a futile effort to help Korea point out the positives of the FTA I want to point out two stories in today’s papers.

First, poisonous produce. Chosun’s take:

Large concentrations of lead and cadmium have been detected in agricultural goods grown near closed mines….In the case of rice…lead and cadmium concentrations were above the safe level in 27 percent and 8 percent of 757 cases tested. In the case of cabbage…27.5 percent and 28.1 percent out of 367 tested cases contained higher-than-permitted concentrations of lead and cadmium. Some 1,08 million sq. m of land was found to be unsafe for growing rice and cabbage…Up to 38 percent of potatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach, green onions, corn and radishes tested also had unsafe lead and cadmium levels. The test also found other heavy metals including arsenic, copper and mercury but in a permissible concentrations.

That overviews the problem, but who’s idea was it in the first place. The JoongAng:

Since 1980, the government has been implementing a project to protect towns near the closed mines from being contaminated by heavy metals spilled out from the mines, spending 210.5 billion won ($220 million). The measures included setting up walls around the mines and removing the sources of contamination.

"Because the project was separately conducted by each ministry, the work was not very efficient and professional," said Ahn Cheol-sik, an official at the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy.

So in other words the government thought it best to press land not suited for agriculture into service. In part, you can argue, due to the artificial prices given to these products because of the tariffs.

In addition to poisoned food, we have general corruption, form the Dong-A:

The police disclosed a scandal involving the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry officials who received bribes for government awards from related manufacturers or subsidiary institutes.

Consumers bought high-priced products selected by these officials, trusting they were high-quality ones.

Now we have improperly labeled food achieved through bribery. Again one can argue such skullduggery would not nearly pay off so well if food prices were not so artificially high due to tariffs. Further, because of the restrictions consumers have little choice but to trust, or not trust, a labeling process which is now proven to be sold to the highest bidder.

While I will not make the statement that an FTA would solve the problems immediately or make them disappear for good, I will say that if consumers are given more alternatives and price points they will have an positive impact in alleviating these problems.


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