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South Korean parliament to probe into rice import deals
South Korea's rival parties agreed Monday to launch a parliamentary probe into controversial rice import deals, parts of which, critics claim, the government left undisclosed to hide import amounts, the official Yonhap news agency reported.

Floor leaders of the ruling and opposition camps said they will put the motion to the National Assembly plenary session on Tuesday or Wednesday for approval. They said the inspection are expected to begin this month.

The focus of the inquiry will be on the full process of negotiations with nine rice-exporting countries, details of bilateral negotiations and how the government made its decisions on rice imports.

The import agreements have yet to be ratified by the parliament.

But party officials said they will abide by the customary practice of not disclosing sensitive contents of multilateral trade talks and also consider national interest.

The Office of the Minister for Trade, which represented South Korea in the negotiations, was skeptical of what the inquiry would be able to achieve.

"Trade negotiations are negotiations between governments. The National Assembly can decide whether to ratify it or not, but it cannot change the terms of the agreement," an official from the office said on condition of anonymity.

The Agriculture Ministry said it hopes the investigation will resolve the controversy and expedite the ratification process.

"We expect the National Assembly to turn positive about ratifying the agreements once the suspicions are cleared," a ministry official said, declining to be named.

Nearly half of the legislators, mostly from the opposition party, signed a motion last month demanding a full inquiry into the rice deals, accusing the government of deceiving the public.

They suspect that the government withheld parts of the deals on exactly how much rice and what other agricultural products the country agreed to import.

After a long delay, South Korea signed agreements with nine rice-exporting nations last year to buy some 408,000 tons of rice from them, or 7.96 percent of domestic consumption.

But allegations arose that South Korea had undisclosed rice import agreements with nations other than the nine countries. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry later confirmed that there were such agreements
MGR Archive 3.5.2005
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