Archive for December 18th, 2008

South Korean parliament members are fighting over a proposed free trade pact with the United States.  Members of the party opposing the deal were locked out of a discussion meeting today, leading to physical clashes and “at least one person bleeding from the face.”

The parliamentary battle over a contentious free trade deal in South Korea led to a confrontation on Thursday in which opposition lawmakers used a sledgehammer to knock down the doors of a blockaded room in which a committee was discussing the agreement.

What’s at stake?

The members of the opposition Democratic Party were trying to stop the trade agreement with the United States from advancing to the floor of parliament for a final vote. The governing party has been seeking to ratify the trade pact by year’s end, saying it would improve South Korea’s competitiveness and ties with the United States. Opponents say it will hurt South Korean farmers.

Across the pond…

The pact faces stiff opposition in United States Congress, where many fear it could disadvantage struggling American automakers.

UPDATE: More coverage and a video.

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Food Fights

Our biggest aspirational peer is apparently years ahead of us in locally grown, organic food. That’s right, pseudo-communist Cuba is a leader in urban gardens, which have substantially cut Cuba’s need to import food from the United States. What is interesting is that Cuba, not always seen as a standard-bearer of the free market, has done this with economically smart food policy:

“We have taken organic agriculture to a social level,” said Salcines.

Castro has decentralized farm decision-making and raised the prices that the state pays for agricultural products, which has increased milk production, for example, by almost 20 percent.

And, in September, the government began renting out unused state-owned lands to farmers and cooperatives, measures that met with approval of international aid groups.

“Decentralization and economic incentives. If those elements are expanded to the rest of the agricultural sector, the response will be the same,” said Welthungerhilfe’s Haep.

Meanwhile, it appears the free market US is headed for more of the same, as Tom Vilsack, former governor of Iowa, is being named Obama’s ag secretary. He comes from a state dominated by corn politics, which means that we are in for more of the same: corn subsidies, fertilizer subsidies, et al. that are geared towards large farms, not small farms and certainly not consumers. An organic consumers group is worried about the food safety implications of this move:

“Obama’s choice for Secretary of Agriculture points to the continuation of agribusiness as usual, the failed policies of chemical- and energy-intensive, genetically engineered industrial agriculture,” said Cummins. “Americans were promised ‘change,’ not just another shill for Monsanto and corporate agribusiness. Considering the challenges we collectively face as a nation, from climate change and rising energy costs to food insecurity, we need an administration that moves beyond ‘business as usual’ to fundamental change—before it’s too late,” concluded Cummins.

I’m not Joe free market, but it’s pretty obvious when non-free market policies are doing the opposite of achieveing social welfare. This is clearly one of those cases. If the government is going to subsidize aspects of agriculture, it should subsidize those aspects that benefit small farmers, consumers, and the environment. Meanwhile, Ezra Klein believes we need to change the USDA to a Dept of Food. Interesting stuff. At the end of the day, it’s sad that we are having a discussion about food policy and health care where Cuba seems to come out ahead in various aspects.

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