By Kim Yon-se
President Lee Myung-bak expressed Tuesday his wish to upgrade Korea's agricultural industry to the level of farming-intensive countries in Europe.
The Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said it plans to establish a Korean version of the agricultural company Cargill to help facilitate mass production, processing and distribution of agricultural products.
`` There is no reason for us to fail in catching up with Denmark or the Netherlands,'' he said in Jeonju, the capital of North Jeolla Province, during a briefing on agricultural policy in the southwestern city Tuesday.
Lee said the Korean farming sector can become globally competitive like the shipbuilding, semiconductor, automobile industries.
The agriculture industry has remained at a lower level because the government underestimated the sector as an industry needing compensation, he said.
``Farmers should stand on their own feet, turning from their past attitude of dependence on state subsidies,'' he said. ``We should separate the role of the government from farmers.''
Lee wants rural villages to grow into enterprise-like farming areas. ``The government should scout young CEOs from various sectors to head the agricultural companies.''
He reiterated that the farming sector should be part of secondary and tertiary sectors of industry, not the primary sector so that home-grown farming produce can be globally competitive.
In addition, the President appealed to farmers to accept the free trade agreement with the United States, which requires parliamentary ratification of the two countries before going into effect.
``We cannot reject it,'' he said. ``Instead of merely opposing it, we should discuss it.''
Lee is skeptical over compensation funding to farmers in the future to help them offset damages following the implementation of the FTA with the United States.
``Despite the government poured nearly 100 trillion won into the agricultural sector, farmers still ask what the government did for them,'' he said.
According to the ministry, Korea's farming households number 16 times those in the Netherlands. But Dutch exports of agricultural produce topped 58.2 billion won in 2006, while Korea's exports of those goods stood at a mere 2.3 billion won, it said.