Fury in Asia over Gatt deal

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WHILE Western leaders celebrate the conclusion of the Gatt negotiations as a triumph, their counterparts elsewhere are fighting to hold back public anger at their acquiescence in the deal.

The South Korean Prime Minister, Hwang In Sung, abruptly resigned yesterday to atone for agreeing to open the country's rice market, and Indian MPs demanded that their Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao, should follow suit.

Under the agreement, Seoul will have to allow in imported rice equal to 1 per cent of South Korea's domestic consumption in 1995, rising to 2 per cent in 1999. According to Geneva negotiators, the South Koreans got off lightly in their battle against 'tariffication' of rice imports. But the nation's 6 million rice farmers disagreed.

'We tried our best to keep the rice market, but the efforts ended in failure. So I resigned to take responsibility,' Mr Hwang told reporters.

Paradoxically, his Japanese counterpart, Morihiro Hosokawa, appeared to have emerged strengthened after taking the same painful decision on Japan's rice market. After winning a bitter political struggle over the question of rice imports, Mr Hosokawa's coalition partners on Wednesday agreed a 45-day extension of parliament, giving him the extra time he needs to enact a package of electoral reform and anti-corruption bills.

However, a Japanese deputy agriculture minister quit to appease his nation's rice farmers.

In India, angry opposition deputies demanded Mr Rao's resignation and paralysed parliament for the second successive day. 'This is a sell-out to America,' they shouted in angry protests against the pact approved on Wednesday after seven years of often acrimonious negotiations.

Farmers' groups say that patent clauses will lead to multinationals monopolising the supply of high-yielding seeds, forcing Indian farmers to pay royalties on every crop they sow. But despite MPs' anger, there appeared to be little parliamentary support for the idea of a no-confidence motion.

China welcomed the deal, but said Gatt would remain 'seriously defective' until Peking is re-admitted to the organisation. The government has been trying to return since 1987, but other members want it to open its markets further.