South Korean farmers lambasted the government Friday for its decision to open up the local rice market to imports next year, vowing to stage an all-out protest against it.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs announced earlier in the day that the government will allow tariffed imports into the rice market starting Jan. 1, 2015, capping a 20-year waiver from an agreement with the World Trade Organization.
Slamming the government decision, the nation's three major farmers' groups -- the Korean Peasants League (KPL), the Korean Women Peasant Association and the Korean Catholic Farmers' Movement -- claimed that the government has failed to listen to their demands.
"The decision completely ignores all of our demands and will go down in history as a catastrophe in our nation's agricultural policy," the groups said at a joint news conference held before a government complex in central Seoul.
"We don't know what the tariff rates are yet, but we don't believe the government will keep them as high as it has promised."
Tariffication of our market is the first step toward a full-fledged market liberalization, they said, adding the government won't be able to fight the pressure to lower the tariffs or to remove them altogether.
In protest against the government move, four leaders of the organizations had their heads shaved and pledged to stage a strong struggle to reverse it.
Strewing rice, some members of the groups even attempted to enter the government complex at around 9:30 a.m. when the government announcement began, but were blocked by police.
On Thursday, the KPL released a survey result in which nearly 70 percent of the respondents said the government hadn't tried hard enough to win public support for the rice market opening. It surveyed more than 800 South Koreans aged 19 and above across the country.
More than 50 percent responded that complete market liberalization should be avoided, as it would undermine the nation's capacity to provide food for its own people, according to the findings. (Yonhap)