- Since the Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture (URAA) in 1994, global competition in Korean agricultural markets has significantly increased. The objective of this dissertation is to identify the effects of trade liberalization on productivity and pricing in the Korean rice market (Essay 1 and 2) and on the entire agricultural sector (Essay 3).
Rice is the major agricultural commodity in Korean agriculture with Rice Processing Complexes (RPC), i.e. agricultural cooperatives, playing a major role in the rice processing industry. Essays 1 and 2 examine RPCs adjustment to the increasingly competitive market environment. The first essay draws on the emerging heterogeneous-firms trade model to test the hypothesis that trade liberalization forces least productivity firms to exit (extensive margin) and encourages reallocation of resources and market share to high productivity firms (intensive margin) within an industry. The above churning results in an increase in the average productivity of the industry. Results from using plant-level RPC data from 2002-2008 to test the above hypothesis show that international competition via increases in rice import (Minimum Market Access) has the largest effect on RPCs' productivity. In particular, greater competition shifts the left tail of the productivity distribution to the right, increasing the median productivity of the Korean rice processing industry. Thus, the above findings suggest that RPCs, often considered to be quasi-public firms shielded from competition, face significant adjustment following trade liberalization.
Economic theory suggests that a key input, i.e. raw product that farmer-members deliver, is treated as given in marketing cooperatives’ optimization, unlike in the case of profit maximizing firms. Thus, only if cooperatives minimize the cost of conventional inputs (labor and capital) cost and additionally, set the price of the raw product optimally, their production is efficient. Essay 2 examines RPCs' pricing efficiency, based on the above theory, by incorporating farmers' supply function of raw product (rice) into hypothesized RPCs' optimization framework. Results show that only large RPCs' pricing and thus, production is efficient. For small and medium RPCs, processing size, i.e. realizing economies of scale, is important for their efficiency. The latter finding suggests merger of neighboring small and medium RPCs to both expand supply of raw rice and lower processing costs. In fact, results show that post-merger RPCs have attained pricing efficiency similar to large RPCs. Since 2002, about 20 percent of Korean RPCs have merged adjusting to the competitive market and improving pricing efficiency and overall productivity.
In the third essay, the effects of agricultural openness on aggregate agricultural productivity and farmers' welfare in Korea are examined. Results indicate that the openness significantly improves agricultural productivity, with a marked increase following URAA. However, in real terms, farm products' price and net farm business income have declined after trade liberalization. The findings show that agricultural trade liberalization has greatly benefitted Korean consumers, but the net impact on farmers' welfare from productivity growth, real price decline and transfer payments is less clear.
The three essays show that Korean agriculture has been adjusting to the increasingly competitive environment in primary and processing sectors, contributing to overall gains for the Korean economy. Encouraging resource reallocation towards more competitive segments of Korean agriculture along with targeted transfer payments to revitalize losers from trade are needed to continue to realize and share gains from trade.