Leslie Kwoh (16 December 2005)
As the South Korean farmers launched their third day of protectionist protests, a more subdued group of free marketeers demonstrated on the other side of the harbor.
Ten members of the Freedom to Trade Coalition – comprising about six organizations representing Ghana, India, Britain, Hong Kong and the United States – gathered near the Tsim Tsa Tsui Star Ferry Pier to topple a wall made of cardboard boxes representing “the many barriers to trade imposed by our governments.”
“If you’ve come for long-winded speeches or violence against the police, you’ve come to the wrong side of the harbor,” quipped Daniel Griswald, director of the Center for Trade Policy Studies at the Washington-based think- tank Cato Institute.
In his spiel for capitalism at the cape of one of the most entrepreneurial spots in the world, he conjured up a “little girl somewhere in Vietnam, who wants to go to school but can’t because of the rice tariffs.”
According to Griswald, eliminating barriers to trade – such as tariffs and quotas – would facilitate a competitive global market, forcing countries to restructure their economies according to their strengths and weaknesses. “Contrast us with the South Korean farmers across the harbor, who are marching to protect privileges they receive from high protective tariffs,” Griswald told the crowd.
A study conducted in 2004 by the Cato Institute asserted that South Korean farmers receive 63 percent of their income from government subsidies – amounting to US$19.8 billion (HK$154.44 billion) every year.
“Why should the rest of the world be held ransom because of their self- interests?” said Julian Morris, director of the London-based International Policy Network.
In fighting to keep the government aid, the farmers are trying to avoid the realities of a competitive market environment, and taking advantage of their fellow citizens, who are forced to pay four times more for their rice than the global average, according to Morris.
Not only that, but ignoring the Korean farmers’ demands would improve political relations between countries, Griswald contended. “Trade will always have a political element, but as trade ties grow deeper, war is less likely,” he said. “[But] just as there will always be sin in the world, there will always be protectionism.”