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Lawmakers Must Ratify Rice Agreement: S. Korean Official
Youn Jang-bae, assistant minister for international trade and cooperation at the Agriculture Ministry, said claims by some farmers' groups that South Korea could delay the opening of its market to rice imports by waiting for the results of the ongoing Doha Development Agenda (DDA) talks are based on misconception.

"The rice import waiver granted in 1994 expired last year and under previously-agreed terms, the only way for the country to get an extension is to reach an understanding with rice exporters, which we have been able to do," the official said.

He said that since it is not likely that parliament will ratify the agreement by the end of the month, the government is lobbying hard to get lawmakers to approve it in September.

Youn said this will give the government just enough time to cover this year's mandatory import quota and adhere to the provisions of the deal.

In December 2004, Seoul said it reached a deal with countries like China, the United States, Thailand and Australia to import rice equivalent to 7.96 per cent of the local market, rather than 4 per cent at present, by 2014 in exchange for 10 more years of tariff waivers. The country must also allow 30 per cent of the government-imported rice to be sold directly to consumers by 2010.

He said that despite pledges to import Egyptian and Indian rice and an understanding with China about speeding up the process of determining if Chinese apples and pears can be imported, the deal suited the country's interests.

The country's top agricultural negotiator said if South Korea is given developing nation status in the agriculture sector and allowed to level high tariffs, it can switch to tariffication with no ramifications. However, if South Korea is classified as a advanced country or if duties allowed for developing countries are not enough to protect locally-grown rice from competition, Seoul will only be obliged to import a maximum of 408,700 tons by 2014, he said.

"We have bought time that countries like Japan do not have," the official said. He claimed that in the case of Japan, every effort is being made in the DDA talks to win the highest level of duties for rice.

The assistant minister and others said they had given up trying to convince the Democratic Labor Party and was trying to convince lawmakers from other parties with rural constituents.

Officials said if the National Assembly passes the deal in September, the government may be able to sign all contracts for the import of rice by the year's end even if no rice arrives in the country. They said this should prove to the nine rice exporting nations that signed agreements with Seoul that the country is serious about keeping its part of the bargain.

Regarding the rice talks, Agriculture Ministry officials said there is a growing possibility that a "July package" will be reached next month that will permit a modality on DDA talks to be reached by the end of the year. Once a modality for the holding of future talks is agreed upon, the 148 members of the World Trade Organization will submit country schedules, with the discussions to be conducted through 2006.

The existing plan calls for the DDA to be ratified by the respective countries by mid-2007 at the latest.
MGR Archive 26.6.2005
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