S.Korea to scrap rice import caps from start of next year
"We have many concerns about whether the duty can really stay at 300-500 percent levels as the government now vows, because the agriculture ministry's roles include not only stabilizing production but also helping provide food at low cost for the country's people," a farmer said at a public consultation in June.
A free trade agreement between South Korea and the United States took effect in March 15 last year, while Seoul has been in talks with China on a similar deal and also wants to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.
Officials at the agriculture ministry have said, however, that rice would be excluded from any free trade agreements.
South Korea aims to produce 4.15 million tonnes of rice in the crop year that ends in October 2015, down 2 percent from a year earlier as the number of rice fields shrinks, a government official said in April. Its appetite for the grain is estimate at 4.07 million tonnes during the crop year.
An eventual pick up in imports has the potential to benefit Chinese growers, who produce the glutinous Japonica variety of rice preferred by South Koreans and found in traditional dishes such as bibimpap.
According to South Korean customs and government data, Thai rice in 2013 fetched an average of $566 per tonne on a cost, insurance and freight (CIF) basis - about a quarter of South Korean rice prices. U.S. rice cost $723 per tonne and Chinese $972, the numbers showed.
Meanwhile, some experts noted that any policy change would come against a background of gradually declining rice consumption in Asia's fourth-largest economy, as more Western foods creep into diets.
Data from the national statistics office showed the country's per capita rice consumption has dropped nearly a fifth in the last decade.
"South Korean eating habits are changing, we are seeing a move away from traditional rice consumption," said David Charlwood at rice industry publication Live Rice Index in Singapore.
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