Agriculture minister helps avoid pork crisis
Just a few hours ahead of the Sunday midnight deadline, the two parties were still stuck in a stalemate in finding a happy medium on how much pork it will import exempted of 22.5~25 percent tariffs.
The government vowed to stick to its original scheme of importing 70,000 tons of tariff-free pork in the second quarter while ranchers countered that no product should come into the nation so cheaply.
The marathon talks between the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MIFAFF) and the Korea Swine Association (KSA) were on the brink of breaking thereby prompting the latter to stop providing pork starting Monday.
Yet, both sides moved one step back apiece at the last minute to finally compromise. It has turned what might be a catastrophe into a model case of chalking up a win-win solution through negotiations.
``We agreed on the second quarter no-tariff imports at 20,000 tons and will talk more in case the pork price shows signs of surging due to the decrease of inexpensive imports,’’ KSA spokesman Kim Dong-sung said.
``The first round of talks collapsed on Sunday evening and the second round was not easy ahead of the deadline, either. But both had the sense of urgency that they should avoid the worst-case scenario.’’
The KSA said that the government was very ready to grapple with the issue through reasonable discussions and so was the association.
Otherwise, the KSA ranchers were supposed to discontinue their shipment of pork beginning Monday, which would have made the domestic pork price skyrocket.
Currently, the country consumes up to 100,000 tons of pork every month and approximately three quarters of that amount comes from local ranchers with the remaining 25 percent from overseas.
Members of the KSA account for more than 70 percent of the monthly demand. Accordingly, their collective action would have wreaked havoc on the domestic market.
Charismatic, practical leader
MIFAFF officials said that its officials could be flexible in negotiating with the KSA representatives thanks to the full support of MIFAFF Minister Suh Kyu-yong, who took charge of the farm ministry early last year.
He has been touted as a charismatic and practical leader who puts substance on the front burner rather than appearance.
``Suh has been active in dealing with the pork issue in practical ways instead of sticking to pre-set ideas. Such an approach helped our officials hammer out differences with ranchers,’’ a MIFAFF official said.
``It demonstrates his typical leadership style, which has been respected inside the ministry over the past year.’’
The official noted that Suh has strength in understanding detailed policies on the back of his frequent visits to farms and ranches.
``He has comprehensive knowledge on farming and ranching since he worked in the area throughout his life. Hence, he sometimes knows better than those in charge of specific policies,’’ he said.
``On top of everything he has affection for rural areas and the residents there deep inside his heart. That is a significant factor in recent MIFAFF measures and policies including the compromises in the pork dispute.’’
Indeed, Suh has frequently visited farms and ranches on weekends to see and hear their problems.
In order to boost communication through closer interaction, he has opted to take a van instead of using his chauffeured sedan provided by the government.
His rationale: compared to a gentleman getting out of an up-scale sedan, the passenger of an ordinary van would have a better chance to speak with and sometimes relate to farmers.
Based on such experiences, he set the foremost goal of MIFAFF for 2012 as attracting more citizens to our farms and ranches, which he expects can underpin the weakening economy in the rural regions.