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Korea's rice negotiations stalled
Although Korean policymakers are wrangling over agricultural policies centered on rice, the government hopes to work out at least two-thirds of its proposals before the sixth World Trade Organization ministerial conference is held in December.

Stalled negotiations in the area of agriculture, the most sensitive yet most critical to ensuring a "development return" from the Doha Development Agenda (DDA), have prompted WTO Director General Pascal Lamy to lower his ambitions for the sixth WTO ministerial conference in December.

But Korea's Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has not yet determined its expectations for the next trade meeting in Hong Kong.

"We have not yet confirmed our level of ambition for the next conference, as we're not sure we will have our proposals for market access and tariffs worked out for rice," said Lee Chung-won, senior deputy director of the Agriculture Ministry's Multilateral Agricultural Negotiation Division.

The country's key sticking points, he highlighted, are market access and tariffs.

"We're now in the process of reforming our position, but talks are stalled in the National Assembly on agricultural policies," added Lee.

From the WTO's perspective, building on previously agreed frameworks would ideally center on three pillars:

A domestic support pillar involving reduction commitments to the structure (but the not size of reductions) related to Trade-Distorting Domestic Support. Secondly, an export competition pillar involving a further elaboration of parallel commitments where both the structure and the agreed end point, such as elimination, have been established. Thirdly, a market access pillar involving the structure of at least some central elements of the core market access formula, and further elaboration of a number of "flexibilities." Some would be "sensitive products" and Special and Differential Treatment.

The DDA round is critical, according to the WTO, because many developing countries, particularly those which are less developed, have vulnerable people dependent on agriculture, and their sensitivities need to be accommodated.

Tim Groser, chairperson of the Special Sessions of the Agriculture Committee, said if such issues are not settled, transferring all the matters to the September to December period would most likely once more put ministers "in an acutely difficult position."

Lee from the Agriculture Ministry said that sensitive agriculture issues, such as rice and global trade policies should strike some balance of favor between "defensive" and "offensive" countries. For instance, Korea, the European Union and Japan, as importing countries, would find market access a more sensitive issue, whereas countries like the United States would be more aggressively pursuing market openings.

Meanwhile, members of Korea's minor opposition Democratic Labor Party (DLP) disrupted a meeting of the parliamentary committee on unification, foreign affairs and trade yesterday in a desperate attempt to block its review of rice import agreements.

All 10 legislators of the opposition party and their aides occupied the floor of the committee conference room at the National Assembly, demanding a re-evaluation of government bills on ratification of the deals.

The labor party has been opposing the government's rice import pacts with nine exporting countries, including China, the United States and Australia, which, according to the government, would require the country to gradually increase its rice imports from the nine countries to 7.96 percent of domestic consumption over the next decade.

The deals came late last year when the country's 10-year grace period to limit the rice exporters' market access to 4 percent ended. The DLP claims the deals would seriously threaten the livelihood of Korean farmers who already face economic burdens due to increased competition from foreign exporters.
MGR Archive 25.9.2005
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