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Government to tackle tariff issue on WTO framework
The Korea Herald, July 19, 2004
Korea's global negotiations on agricultural trade has come under greater pressure from the World Trade Organization, which called for further discussion on tariff limits.

Earlier this month, major food-importing nations including Korea expressed strong opposition against the WTO move to cap tariff rates on some farm produces.

But on Friday, a framework document unveiled by top WTO officials proposed a system that would lower import tariffs, a key demand from food-exporting countries.

High tariffs would be slashed at a larger percentage than low tariffs, according to the WTO proposal.

Food importing nations have demanded a right to impose high tariffs on food items, to protect the livelihood of their farmers.

"We are carefully studying the framework deal and will soon prepare measures to tackle major issues on the document," Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry said in its statement.

Korea imposes far higher tariffs on some food items, including garlic, red pepper, and sesame than other agriculture goods to protect local farmers. It has not liberalized its rice sector yet and foreign imports are limited to 4 percent of the local market through a special quota system.

The framework was initially due to be completed at a ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico, last September. But because of the huge difference between food-exporters and importers, the negotiations collapsed without any consensus.

The proposal is scheduled to be endorsed in WTO General Council meeting beginning on July 27.

"Members are well aware that considerable differences of view persist in a number of important areas," WTO top officials wrote in a foreword to the proposal.

Major food exporting countries, including the United States, have demanded big cuts in import tariffs, claiming free competition should be guaranteed in farm trade. The framework suggests all farm export subsidiaries be eliminated by a date agreed among the WTO member states.

Korea is negotiating with rice-exporting countries to open its market. Agriculture experts here say imposing a high tariff could be a final resort in case of the market liberalization. The international rice prices are only around 25 percent of Korea's.

The Korean government is pursuing the extension of the quota system out of fear that a sudden opening would devastate local rice farms and the entire agriculture sector. Rice accounts for nearly half of local farmers' total income here.

The WTO, which has 147 member countries, hopes by the end of this month to set a date for an agriculture trade treaty.

Experts believe that should if this month's effort fails, the WTO talks will likely remain disrupted for months. They say further negotiations will be impossible for a while mainly due to U.S. presidential elections and power changeover in the European Commission.
MGR Archive 20.7.2004
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