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Foreign rice is expected to hit the South Korean market in September
Foreign rice is expected to hit the South Korean market in September after the National Assembly approves a tariff waiver pact with nine rice-exporting countries, the government said Tuesday.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry said that the World Trade Organization approved the comprehensive deal as of last Wednesday, and based on the official notification, due process to import rice will be started.

"The pact will likely be forwarded to the parliament for approval in June," said Youn Jang-bae, the assistant minister for international trade and cooperation.

He added that if it is ratified, Seoul will initiate an international bid to purchase rice that South Korea must import this year.

"From the start of the international bid, to quarantine, processing and repackaging for sale, it will take roughly three months," the official said. However, he declined to say when people will actually see imported rice on the market.

Other sources said that South Korea established some conditions on the timing of the import rice sale, so that the release date must avoid the monsoon season in late June through July and the rice harvest in October.

This leaves only August and September, but since it will take three months to import and sell the rice here, the latter month is more likely.

The deal, signed between South Korea, the United States, China, Thailand, Australia, India, Pakistan, Argentina, Egypt and Canada late last year, gave Seoul the right to postpone rice tariffication until 2014 in exchange for granting these countries greater access to the domestic rice market.

Rice exporters will be allowed a minimum market access of 7.96 percent, or 408,700 tons, from the current 4 percent of domestic consumption as of 2004. Seoul was obliged to import 205,228 tons last year, after which it could either get a further deployment or switch to full tariffication.

Seoul will also allow the direct sale of government-imported rice to consumers, which will reach 30 percent of total imports by 2010, from none at present.

All imported rice is held in stock or sold to food processing companies.

Kim Young-man, director general of the Agriculture Ministry's food grain policy bureau, said that even if foreign rice is sold, the 22,000 tons allowed to reach consumers directly is equivalent to 0.4 percent to 0.5 percent of rice sold here on an annual basis.

"The quantity is small compared to the entire market, although there is some concern of the psychological impact this may have on local growers and consumers," he said.

Kim said that under the deal, the government will be the sole rice importer, and will carefully select local distributors to sell rice through retail outlets.

"This is to ensure that imported rice does not become disguised as locally grown rice that may attract more buyers," he said. To prevent cheaper foreign rice from taking over the local market, where rice is three to four times more costly, the government will levy import markups that will greatly reduce the price difference, Kim said.

The Agriculture Ministry also said it will take steps to prevent China, the United States, Thailand and Australia, who will be guaranteed a set country quota up until 2014, from trying to work with each other or form a cartel to raise prices by using international rice market prices as reference.

If there is price rigging and these countries do not desist from such activities, their country quota will become part of the global quota.

South Korea must import 116,159 tons from China, 50,076 tons from the United States, 29,963 tons from Thailand and 9,030 tons from Australia from this year to 2014.

Increases in the mandatory amount from year to year will be absorbed by the global quota, which allows Seoul to open bids, including for the four countries with the country quota.

If the Assembly rejects the rice tariff waiver pact, officials here said this will mean the a full switch to a tariff system, which may not be to the country's advantage.
MGR Archive 12.4.2005
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