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S. Korea notifies WTO of plan to liberalize rice market via tarrification

South Korea on Tuesday formally notified the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Tuesday it will open its rice market starting next year with a 513 percent tariff rate.

"The government has submitted to the WTO secretariat its plan to revise the country's tariff rate on rice imports ahead of market opening through tarrification that will go into effect Jan. 1, 2015," the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said in a press release.

The move comes as a special agreement with the WTO that allowed the country to delay its rice market liberalization over the past 20 years expires at the end of this year.

Some people, especially local farmers, had argued that the country should negotiate another delay. The government said such an option would entail a high cost and argued back that the proposed 513 percent tariff would be high enough to protect South Korean farmers.

The proposed tariff rate is subject to the WTO's approval.

The Philippines, which had also been allowed to postpone its rice market liberalization, was recently given a five-year extension of the delay but only after it agreed to more than double its mandatory rice import quota to more than 800,000 tons per year under what is called the minimum market access (MMA).

South Korea already has to import 408,900 tons of rice in MMA quota every year, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the country's total rice consumption. The amount will be maintained even after the country opens its rice market through tarrification next year.

Agriculture Minister Lee Dong-phil has said the country could no longer afford to expand its MMA import quota, "especially when the country's rice consumption continues to drop."

In 2013, the country's per capita rice consumption came to 67.2 kilograms, down 3.7 percent from the previous year. The 2013 figure marked the lowest since 1963, when the country's per capita consumption stood at 105.5 kilograms, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. (Yonhap)