South Korea is likely to announce its position on the rice market liberalization issue in "mid-July," a government source said Monday, apparently delaying its final decision that had been expected within this month.
"We are likely to postpone an official announcement on rice liberalization as we need more time to gather consensus with lawmakers," a government source close to the matter told Yonhap News Agency on condition of anonymity.
"We cannot wait indefinitely, however, since we have to notify the WTO of our decision by late September. The government is now targeting to announce its position on the rice market liberalization issue in mid-July," the source added.
South Korea was allowed to delay its rice market liberalization for 10 years under a 1993 agreement with the World Trade Organization (WTO), in which the country agreed to increase its minimum market access (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.
The government has said it will have its final decision before the end of this month. Government policymakers were to discuss the issue Monday afternoon, which raised expectations that the decision was imminent.
"The meeting is likely to be aimed mostly at reviewing the government's efforts related to the rice market and its liberalization. It would not be aimed at announcing the government's final decision on the issue," the source said.
Another source said that the government will announce its decision on the rice market issue "sooner or later," adding that it could be made "either in the first or second week of next month."
The rice market liberalization issue has divided the country sharply, with farmers objecting to the market opening, which they worry could seriously hurt their livelihood by allowing an influx of low-priced foreign rice.
The government appears to be leaning toward opening the local rice market, saying that an extension of the waiver could be conditioned on a hiked MMA import quota, which could result in more damage such as causing an oversupply amid less demand for the grain here.
According to the agriculture ministry, South Korea spent more than 300 billion won to import about 360,000 tons of rice under its MMA quota in 2012. Its import quota for this year has reached 408,000 tons.
The country's overall rice consumption, meanwhile, is expected to reach 4.58 million tons this year, with its per-capita consumption forecast to shrink 1.75 percent on-year.
The government is reportedly focusing on how high to set the tariff rates it will impose on rice imports in exchange for opening the market. The tariff rates, which require the approval of other WTO members, could serve as the "last line of defense" for local farmers and the farming industry against foreign rice.
Government sources said that it will "take more time" to determine the rates. Some experts expect that the government will seek more than 400 percent tariff rates on rice imports. (Yonhap)