Vol. 5 Num 557 Tue. December 20, 2005  

WTO bell tolls for farmers

The angry South Korean farmers who protested against the WTO meeting may have had some immediate success, but analysts say their way of life cannot be safeguarded in the long term.

"From a tactical standpoint, the street protests drew attention to their cause. When it comes to achieving their goal, it was a failure," said Kang Moonsung, head of the WTO research team at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy here.

Governments with farming lobbies who have political clout beyond their economic power -- such as South Korea and France -- fear the kind of direct action that powerful farming lobbies can use to dramatize their cause.

But in the end, can direct action change anything?.

"No," said a foreign diplomat from an agriculture exporting country based in Seoul. "But it can delay the future from happening for long enough to annoy trade partners."

The long-term goal of South Korean farmers, shared by other powerful farming lobbies in countries such as Japan, is to maintain high levels of government protection for a way of life that is, economically at least, destined to wither away.