The Cost of Food Self-Sufficiency and Agricultural Protection in South Korea

Food security was an issue during World Trade Organization meetings last November. South Korea is one of several developing countries that wants to maintain self-sufficiency objectives and has been reluctant to open borders to trade. It defines food security as ensuring an adequate food supply under all market conditions. As a result, high tariffs protect domestic producers from lower-cost imports--especially rice, meat and dairy. High production prices are supported by government purchases. Recent research at Iowa State University suggests that, rather than ensuring that all citizens have access to affordable food, South Korea's food security objectives hurt consumers and may slow the country's overall economic growth. Economists John Beghin and Jean-Christophe Bureau at ISU's Center for Agricultural and Rural Development found that agricultural subsidization in South Korea costs consumers more than producers gain. They also found that high food costs can reduce demand and keep poor consumers from acquiring adequate nourishment. The researchers propose an alternative policy that sets production rather than self-sufficiency targets for staple foods and uses imports for additional food sources. Their paper, "Food Security and Agricultural Protection in South Korea," is available online at www.card.iastate.edu/products/publications/synopsis/?p=345. Contact Beghin, (515) 294-5811, or Sandy Clarke, (515) 294-6257.

(Released February 2002)