SEOUL, June 30 (Reuters) - South Korea has delayed a decision on how it will open its rice markets to allow more time to consult with farmers and the public, senior government officials said on Monday.
Deputy Trade Minister Choi Kyong-lim told reporters in a briefing that a policy decision, originally expected in June, would come after a public hearing held by a parliamentary committee.
The timing of the hearing, which would follow previous rounds of public consultation, is yet to be set.
“A cabinet meeting later today was set to discuss the policy decision but no decision will be unveiled as the government now wants to listen to more views from farmers,” said another government official.
With the country’s 20-year-old agreement with the World Trade Organistaion allowing Seoul to cap exports set to expire at year-end, the government is under international pressure to begin opening its rice markets to more foreign competition.
It is understood to favour switching to a system of high tariffs rather than increasing quotas and negotiating to extend the cap system.
While such a move would be unlikely to spark a surge in rice imports as hefty tariffs would deter buyers from making overseas purchases, it would mark a key psychological shift in a politically-sensitive sector, with farmers fretting it could pave the way towards lower duty down the line.
China and the United States account for the bulk of rice shipments to South Korea.
Reporting by Meeyoung Cho; Editing by Joseph Radford