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S. Korea seeks to use mandatory rice imports on foreign aid

2014/09/19 10:46

SEJONG, Sept. 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korea plans to use part of its mandatory rice imports as aid to other countries, possibly including North Korea, the government said Friday.

South Korea is set to liberalize its rice market through tariffication starting next year, which requires revisions to its agreement with the World Trade Organization (WTO) that prohibits rice imported under quota, known as minimum market access (MMA), from being used as aid to a third country.

South Korea already struggles to find use for its MMA imports, which accounts for nearly 10 percent of its overall rice consumption, as the poor quality of the imports have long failed to attract local consumers despite their significantly lower price than that of locally produced grains.

North Korea, on the other hand, depends heavily on international handouts to feed its population of 24 million.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said Thursday it will submit its own revisions to the South Korea-WTO agreement before the end of this month as it launches negotiations on the country's tariff rates for rice imports.

Even after the market opening, South Korea is required to import at least 408,700 tons of rice under the MMA.

The WTO agreement bars the use of the MMA imports as part of food aid to a third country as MMA, by definition, seeks to promote foreign products in an importing country.

Agriculture Minister Lee Dong-phil said the country's obligation to consume all MMA rice imports locally will be removed following its market opening next year.

"The government will first review the country's obligations under the agreement with the WTO as the rice market opening means the country is returning to WTO principles," he told a press conference Thursday.

South Korea provided 2.5 million tons of rice to the North between 2000 and 2007. The country's humanitarian assistance to the North has since been nearly suspended after a series of provocations from the communist state, which included the North's second and third nuclear tests in 2009 and 2013.