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S. Korea may allow farmers to export locally grown rice
SEOUL, May 9 (Yonhap) -- South Korea may allow the export of locally grown rice to offset shrinking domestic demand and help farmers increase sales, a source at the Agriculture Ministry said Wednesday.

The remark comes as a agricultural cooperative in Gyeonggi Province said it submitted a formal request to export 200 tons of rice to Switzerland. The cooperative had asked for the export permit in January.

The agriculture minister has the right to authorize rice exports. Seoul has never allowed overseas shipments of the key staple crop, and there has only been a small number of requests to export rice.

"In the past, we had to protect the local rice market, and therefore could not allow exports because such a move could trigger calls for greater market access by agricultural exporters," said an official who declined to be identified.

However, he said since Seoul is unlikely to face pressure to open its market until 2014, it can listen to requests by some farmers to export high-quality rice. In December 2004, South Korea reached a deal to maintain its current rice tariff waiver for another 10 years in exchange for the country's commitment to increase market access for foreign rice.

Before the mid 1990s, South Korea did not reach full self-sufficiency in rice. High prices hurt competitiveness and pressure to open the domestic rice market during the Uruguay Round and the recent free trade agreement (FTA) talks with the United States made it hard to consider exports.

"Last year, an average South Korean consumed 78.8 kilograms of rice, down from 80.7 kilograms in the previous year," the official said. He said the figure has been falling for some time and may continue to do so for the near future, making it imperative to start considering foreign markets.

Others in the ministry said requests to export 200 tons of rice were being reviewed and that a decision could be reached as early as next week.

Insiders said there is a good chance that Seoul may allow the export since it could open new markets.

The ministry claims the quality of locally grown rice is equal to the best in the world, and judging by the success of expensive Japanese rice in foreign markets, there is a chance that South Korean rice can succeed as well.
MGR Archive 10.5.2007
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