Korea leans toward opening rice market

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jun 20, 2014 - 19:40
  • Updated : Jun 20, 2014 - 19:40
The South Korean government appeared to be leaning toward liberalizing the country’s rice market Friday, one day after the Philippines was given a five-year extension of a waiver to open its rice market but only at what officials here called a “huge cost.”

In the eighth and latest round of negotiations with the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Philippines was given a five-year extension of the waiver that was originally set to expire at the end of June 2012.

However, the Southeast Asian country may have paid too much for the extension that ends in 2017, government officials here said.

“Under the deal reached with WTO members, the Philippines has to increase the amount of its rice imports under the minimum market access (MMA) quota by 2.3 times to 805,000 tons per year from the current 350,000 tons,” an official from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said.

“There is also an extra cost it has to pay as the country had to reach separate bilateral deals with seven WTO member countries that took part in the negotiations,” the official said, adding details of the bilateral deals will not be disclosed.

Officials here noted the Philippine case shows what South Korea can expect if it, too, decides to seek another waiver on market liberalization.

South Korea was given a 10-year waiver on its rice market liberalization under a 1993 agreement with the WTO, in which the country agreed to increase its MMA import quota by 20,000 tons per year. The agreement, extended once by 10 years in 2004, is set to expire at the end of this year.

“It took two years and seven failed attempts for the Philippines to win a waiver that will expire in just three years from now while the country had to more than double its import quota,” an official from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said, asking not to be identified.

Another official from the agriculture ministry said the cost of delaying market liberalization will likely be far greater for South Korea.

“As seen in the Philippine case, the country must secure the consent of all WTO members, who will most likely ask for more in return than they did to the Philippines when considering that South Korea is a much larger market than the Philippines,” the official said.

“The cost we have to pay will just be too big.”

In 2012, South Korea spent over 300 billion won ($294 million) to import about 360,000 tons of rice under its MMA quota, according to the agriculture ministry. Its import quota for this year has reached 408,000 tons, and the amount will permanently remain fixed even if it decides to open its rice market next year.

“The country has to spend about 350 billion won this year just to purchase its MMA quota and an additional 50 billion won to ship and store the imported rice,” the official from the agriculture ministry said. (Yonhap)