South Korea should open up the country's rice market at an early date as a delay will only add to its import quota that has already surpassed the annual surplus of the staple grain, an ad-hoc committee said Tuesday.
The country imported 327,000 tons of rice this year under the quota set by the World Trade Organization (WTO), though the government is forced to purchase and isolate tens of thousands of tons of rice from the market every year to keep prices from falling and thus hurting local producers.
The Seoul government is again set to purchase 86,000 tons of rice from this year's produce as the country is expected to produce 4.34 million tons of rice this year with domestic consumption for 2011 estimated to reach only 4.26 million tons. The country's rice reserves are expected to reach some 1.4 million tons in 2011.
The country's import quota increases by 20,000 tons every year until it opens up its rice market, at which point the import quota will be fixed at the level of the previous year, according to an official from the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
"There is no reason for farmers to oppose early tariffication of rice as the continued increase of stock due to the import quota that increases by 20,000 tons every year is placing a great burden on the domestic market," the special committee on rice said in its recommendation to the government.
The joint committee of rice producers and consumers was launched early last year and also consists of representatives from the government and academia.
The committee's recommendation also included a dissenting opinion, which said a significant drop in international prices of the grain may lead to an additional inflow of cheap rice, thus further damaging the local market and its producers.
To prevent such cases from taking place, the committee recommended the government first finish devising a five-year development plan for the country's rice industry before opening up its rice market.