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Korean Rice Farmers Facing Market Liberalization
Korean Times
Koreans think nothing of eating rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But the staple is a politically charged issue in export-reliant South Korea, which is seeking international free trade agreements to overcome rising trade barriers. Local farmers fiercely oppose opening up the Korean rice market, saying cheaper foreign produce will force them out of business. Throughout the country, farmers are busy reaping the fruits of their labor. But even though this year sees bumper crops up 9 percent in total yields compared to last year, Korean farmers, faced with the global trend of free trade, are concerned for their livelihoods.
Under the Uruguay Round, the multilateral trade negotiations back in 1995, South Korea was recognized as a developing country and given a 10-year grace period to open up its rice market. But it still had to import up to 4 percent of domestic consumption.
Already in the final year of the grace period, Seoul is holding negotiations with nine rice-exporting countries which volunteered to take part, including the U.S. and China. "Within two months' time, Korea has to choose from two options. Either raise its minimum rice import quota and extend the grace period, or open its rice market and impose hefty duties on imported rice."
Whatever the outcome of the talks may be, under the given options, Korea has to import much more in the near future than it currently does.
Local farmers are pushing for the extension of the moratorium so that they can buy time to raise the competitiveness of Korean rice, which is currently four times pricier than international market norms.
"My fellow farmers and I agree that Korea should pursue free trade. We cannot be selfish to protect our own interests only. But we wish the proceeds from the trade can be partially used to support us," said one farmer.
"Rice shipments may be relatively cheap now compared to domestic produce. But we will have to depend on imported rice no matter how expensive it gets, if the Korean rice industry collapses after market liberalization."
The Agriculture and Forestry Ministry declined Arirang TV's interview request on its backup plans to assist Korean farmers after the expiration of the grace period, saying that they will make a formal announcement when appropriate.
"The most important thing is to come up with a government measure guaranteeing a stable income for farmers. Once the government reassures local farmers that the cost of rice will stay similar to last year's, the farmers can focus on their work without feeling jittery," said one farmer.
MGR Archive 30.10.2004
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Russia Rapan $ 700
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USA Calrose #1 Paddy $480
EU Prices Baldo €660
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