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Government mulls tariffs on rice imports

The government is mulling tariffs on rice imports from next year, possibly expediting the process previously scheduled for 2015, the Agricultural Ministry said Tuesday.

The early imposition of tariffs on rice imports is to reduce growing stockpiles of rice, a problem that has been deepening under the current system where Seoul has to import a specified amount of foreign rice.

The Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said the exact timing of it has not been confirmed but an earlier imposition is a “likely option.”

Under the current system, the country has been importing a negotiated amount of foreign rice to help control the inflow of rice imports and thereby protect the already heavily subsidized rice industry here.

“We understand that farmers are against the early imposition as they fear huge inflow of cheap rice coming into the country should the market be opened under tariffs,” an official at the ministry said.

“But local produce should still be competitive as we can impose up to 400 percent levy on foreign rice.”

The ministry’s five-year plan encourages rice consumption and aims to expand rice exports from the current 50,000 tons to 100,000 tons by 2015.

The nations’ per capita annual consumption of rice has been falling rapidly despite Seoul’s campaigns to consume more rice.

The Korea Rural Economic Institute, a state-run think tank, this week said the consumption will decline to a record-low level this year as more people favor foods other than rice for their daily meals.

The agency said Koreans could eat 195.2 grams to 196.4 grams of rice per day this year, which would be a dip of 1.6 percent to 2.2 percent compared to last year.

By Cynthia J. Kim (cynthiak@heraldcorp.com)
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