South Korea will decide its final position on the rice market opening later next week amid strong opposition from farmers and others who were worried that it may hurt the country's rice industry, a lawmaker said Tuesday.
The decision will be made in a meeting of policymakers aimed at discussing the country's trade and other economic issues. It would come after the government earlier delayed its decision on the issue, which was supposed to be made by the end of June.
"The government will decide its final stance (on rice market opening) during an external economic policy coordination meeting to be held on July 25," Rep. Joo Ho-young told a meeting with other lawmakers. Joo is the chief policymaker of the ruling Saenuri Party.
"It seems to be a matter of whether to begin importing rice by withdrawing our push for tariffication of rice or more than double the minimum market access (MMA) under the status quo," he added.
South Korea was allowed to postpone its rice market liberalization for 10 years under a 1993 agreement with the World Trade Organization (WTO) in return for increasing its mandatory 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 rice market liberalization issue has polarized the country, with farmers objecting to the market opening, which they said 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 temporary waiver for the rice market opening 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.
The government is reportedly focusing on imposing high tariff rates on rice imports in exchange for opening its 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. (Yonhap)