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S. Korean gov't to authorize rice export next week
South Korea's agriculture ministry said Friday that it plans to authorize the export of locally grown rice to help farmers seek overseas markets in the face of shrinking domestic demand.

It said that recommendations are to be distributed beginning Monday to agricultural cooperatives and exporters that want to sell rice abroad.

Under South Korean law, the agriculture minister has the right to permit rice exports by issuing recommendations. The need for governmental approval stems from having been forced to ship rice to Japan during the Japanese colonization of the country in the first half of the 20th century. At the time, Korea was used as a base for rice production for Japan, and many locals were left without adequate food.

The regulation is also the result of inadequate production that prevented the country from becoming fully self-sufficient until the 1990s, as there was a persistent shortage of rice in the 1960-70s.

"Changes in overall circumstances require flexibility, especially since there are adequate reserves, a drop in consumption and continuous efforts have been made to upgrade quality," said a spokesman for the ministry.

Seoul was under considerable pressure to open the domestic rice market during the Uruguay Round and the recent free trade agreement (FTA) talks with the United States, making it hard to take steps to export rice.

"If we tried to export rice, we would have been more vulnerable to demands to open the local market," the official said.

There has been a steady decline in the consumption of rice by the average South Korean from 82 kilograms in 2004 to 78.8 kilograms last year. It is the first time the average has fallen under 80 kilograms. This is expected to fall to 77.1 kilogram this year.

In 2006, the country produced 6.05 million tons of rice and consumed 4.98 million tons.

"Under such circumstances, exporting rice could further fuel improvement in quality and help farmers cope with the steadily increasing volume of imports from countries like China and the United States," he said.

The official then said that because locally grown rice is 3-5 times more expensive than that grown abroad, emphasis will be placed on selling top-quality goods.

The country produces more than 77,000 tons of top-quality, eco-friendly rice that could find a market abroad.

Earlier in the week, an agricultural cooperative in Gyeonggi Province said that it submitted a formal request to export rice to Switzerland, and other farms have said that they've found foreign buyers.

The agriculture ministry said most of the initial sales will go to South Koreans living abroad, but this may change with time.

It said 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. Japan sold 760 tons of rice in 2005.

Thailand, Vietnam, India and the United States are the top four rice exporters in the world. China is the largest importer.
MGR Archive 13.5.2007
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