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Korea pledges to protect rice market in FTA talks

Korea Times, 23 April 2006

Korea Pledges to Protect Rice Market in FTA Talks

By Kim Sung-jin
Staff Reporter

The Ministry of Finance and Economy (MOFE) said on Sunday that it would exert all-out efforts to shelter the Korean rice market from an influx of U.S. agricultural imports after the enforcement of the proposed Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

The ministry on Sunday that keeping Korea’s rice market protected against U.S. products would not be an easy task as Washington has repeatedly called for a full agricultural market opening by Korea, but the government will do its best to keep its shelter against the U.S. rice industry intact.

``Considering previous free trade pacts inked by the U.S. with other FTA partners, the U.S. agreed to clauses that held exceptions for some specific industries,’’ MOFE director Kim Young-mo said.

``Given the sensitivity of the full liberalization of the rice market and the significant impact the rice market has on Korea as it is directly linked to the nation’s food security and livelihood of Korea’s farming community, we will endeavor to protect the local rice market to the end,’’ he said.

The ministry said it will adopt differentiated negotiation tactics to minimize injury to the Korean agricultural industry and seek to exclude price-sensitive agricultural produce from items subject to instant tariff removal or at least secure a longer time for a gradual tariff removal.

As for agricultural items that mostly rely on imports, the government will actively seek to apply import quotas to prevent a sudden surge in imports, the MOFE said.

Also, the MOFE said it would ``prudently’’ approach the issue of opening key backbone public industries such as telecommunications, electricity, waterworks and city gas services to U.S. service providers.

``Our basic principle of negotiation includes preventing a Korea-U.S. FTA from impairing the public domain of key backbone industries such as electricity, gas and water services,’’ the ministry said. ``We judge that those industrial sectors are difficult to liberalize,’’ it added.

The MOFE also clarified that opening of the educational service market will be discussed only for post-high school educational service segments.

Moreover, the ministry refuted a speculation that the Korean government yielded to the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) pressure to surrender to its demands on allowing operation of profit-making medical institutions, resuming importation of U.S. beef, easing automobile emission rules on car imports and relaxation of the screen quota mandatory showing days allocated to Korean films.

As for the medical service market issue, the MOFE said nothing has yet been decided and the Ministry of Health and Welfare is currently reviewing the issue.

The ministry said it concluded that a reduction of the screen quota would not deal a hard blow to the Korean film industry, in reflection of its current global competitiveness.

It added that importation of U.S. beef and loosening of emission rules for imported motor vehicles are not issues that the principles of which can be swayed by Korea’s enthusiasm to clinch an FTA with the U.S.

The MOFE said it is considering holding another public hearing to collect wide ranging opinions of local industries on Korea-U.S. FTA and exchanging tariff concessions for a bilateral FTA with the U.S. at its second round of Korea-U.S. FTA negotiations on July 2.

 source: Korea Times