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Korea, U.S. make little progress at rice talks
The Korea Herald, November 26, 2004
Korea and the United States failed to narrow their differences on liberalizing the nation's rice market during a seventh round of working-level talks, the government said yesterday.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry said Korean delegates met their U.S counterparts in Washington on Wednesday but failed to resolve major issues such as raising the rice import quota and allowing imports to be sold directly to Korean consumers.

Seoul hoped to complete the talks with the U.S. yesterday and reach a deal with nine rice-exporting countries early next month. It wanted to use an agreement with Washington as a yardstick for remaining negotiations. After China, United States is the No. 2 rice exporter to Korea.

No date for further negotiations with U.S. has been disclosed.

"We will have discussions as soon as the delegates come back from Washington. We have yet to determine whether we will have another round of the talks with U.S.," said an assistant director at the Agriculture Ministry.

Under a 10-year deal reached in 1994 at the Uruguay Round of World Trade Organization talks, Korea was allowed to use a scheme called minimal market access to limit rice imports to 4 percent of domestic consumption.

The agreement expires at the end of the year and Korea must reach an understanding with rice-exporting countries to open the market.

China and the United States account for 85 percent of the nation's rice imports. Other parties in the ongoing negotiations include Thailand, Canada, Australia and India.

The government next week will have an eighth round of talks with China. The exact date of the discussion has not been announced.

Sources here said U.S. officials at Wednesday's talks urged Korea to allow that 75 percent of imported rice be sold directly to local consumers by 2014. The percentage is far higher than the government wants to allow, which is 10 to 20 percent.

Imported rice at present is solely used in processed foods such as flour and is not available to local shoppers.

The government wants to extend the current quota system for another 10 years, fearing that full market opening will harm local rice farmers. Korean rice is about four times more expensive than imports due to small scale and inefficient farming.

In order to gain a 10-year extension, Korea has reportedly offered to raise the import quota to 7.5 percent. But officials in the Agriculture Ministry said some rice-exporting countries are pressing for 8.9 percent or 455,000 metric tons. Others said they would accept 8 percent. They declined to mention which country is pressing what demands.
MGR Archive 26.11.2004
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