SEOUL, July 11 South Korea has no choice but to
scrap caps on rice imports from the start of 2015, instead
managing shipments into the country using a system of tariffs, a
senior government official said on Friday.
Such a shift has long been expected as a 20-year-old
agreement over rice import quotas with the World Trade
Organisation expires at the end of 2014, with the nation under
pressure to take greater steps to open its markets for the
"Implementing tariffs on rice starting in 2015 is an issue
that cannot be delayed any further, and realistically there are
no other alternatives," said Yeo In-hong, vice agriculture
While the statement, made at the latest public hearing on
the issue, was Yeo's personal opinion, it marks another
indication that a move to tariffs is close.
The step would be unlikely to spark a short-term surge in
rice imports as hefty tariffs would deter buyers from making
But it would represent a key psychological shift in a
politically sensitive sector, with farmers in the country
fretting it could pave the way towards lower duty in the future.
Government officials and industry experts have said import
duty would likely be around 300-500 percent, bringing prices for
imported rice in line with local grain.
Under the current WTO agreement, South Korea must buy
408,700 tonnes of foreign rice this year, or 9 percent of its
demand. The amount that must be purchased abroad has gradually
increased from 51,000 tonnes in 1995.
Local media have said that an official policy announcement
on rice imports could come as early as next week.
(Reporting by Chris Lee; Editing by Joseph Radford)