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Sat, May 03, 2003 - Page 12 News List

South Korea will play crisis card in autumn WTO talks

REUTERS , SEOUL

South Korea's agriculture minister said yesterday farm exporters should give more ground if WTO talks in the Mexican city of Cancun in September are to make headway toward a global trade pact by 2005.

Agriculture and Forestry Minister Kim Young-jin said that exporters needed to take a more realistic approach, taking into account importers' interests and the tight timeframe to reach a deal.

"The balanced interests of those members who would participate in the negotiations should be reflected in a proposal to make the Cancun meeting reach agreement," Kim said.

"A proposal which reflects the interests of the Cairns Group and exporters more is not a suitable basis for negotiation," he said.

South Korea argues its agricultural sector -- particularly its rice farming -- is still at a developing stage and needs support. Kim also said agriculture had strategic importance because of North Korea's chronic food shortages -- a line of argument that could raise eyebrows in some exporter countries.

"The current agriculture circumstances such as farm household debt and support for a direct payment system are at the developing-country level," Kim said.

"In agriculture, South Korea should take care of food matters of the hunger-stricken North as well as the South to prepare for unification in the future," he said.

Kim noted South Korea's agricultural industry had particular factors to be considered.

The two Koreas have remained technically at war since 1953.

Droughts and tropical storms have exacerbated agricultural and industrial problems in North Korea since the World Food Program (WFP), the world's largest food aid agency, launched its first emergency operation in the country in 1995.

North Korea needs around 1.1 million tonnes of grain for food this year, compared with 1.5 million tonnes last year, according to data from the WFP.

In March, the WTO failed to meet its deadline for reaching an agreement on guidelines for cutting farm subsidies and tariffs as exporters and importers among the 145 WTO member-countries are deeply divided.

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