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S. Koreans protest rice imports
South Korean police used water cannons here yesterday to disperse at least 15,000 farmers protesting against a government plan to further ease restrictions on rice imports.

Apple and tangerine-throwing protesters clashed with riot police as they tried to march towards the presidential Blue House, wi

tnesses said. Police sealed off the main streets in front of the city hall.

Protesters shouted, “Let's defend our rice market!”

“Fifty-five percent of our farmers' incomes come from rice. If the rice market is opened to rice imports, there is no way farmers can survive. We are saying in the livelihood of farmers, we will by all means defend the rice market,” said Korean Advanced Farmers Federation President Seo Jung-eui.

Nine rice exporting countries want South Korea to more than double its rice imports over the next 10 years and allow sales of foreign rice in shops, which South Korean farmers say would destroy the local rice market.

Under concessions made at the World Trade Organisation's Uruguay round of talks, South Korea has an annual rice import quota set at 4% of local consumption, but that quota system expires by the end of this year.

South Korea aims to set a new rice import policy in early December and is close to wrapping up six months of bilateral talks with the United States, China, Thailand, Australia, Argentina, Egypt, Canada, India and Pakistan.

Youn Jang-bae, director-general at the ministry's international agriculture bureau, said on Tuesday that opening the market was unavoidable.

Fearing competition from rice that costs just 552 won (RM1.90) per kg, hundreds of thousands of South Korea's four million farmers want a referendum before any change in import policy, but the government has rejected this.

Imported rice costs about a quarter of locally grown rice.

The government supports farmers by buying about 15% of the national output each year.

There has been a proposal to cut the price paid by the government by 4% , but this plan faces a rough ride through parliament, which has not cut the support price since the scheme was introduced in 1948.

For rice imports from next year and beyond, the country must choose between raising quotas to maintain the current system or switching to a tariff system as used by Japan and Taiwan.

Tariffs would free up imports but the tariffs could be set at levels high enough to protect farmers.

Foreign rice exporters say high tariffs in Japan and Taiwan since they switched to the tariff system from quotas have virtually ruled out any additional imports above quotas.
MGR Archive 21.11.2004
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