Rice -- Korea's staple food holds symbolic meaning when it comes to free trade agreements.
Not just because local farmers would take a hit with massive flows of cheap foreign rice, but because it's directly connected to the nation's food security.
And that's why Korea, under 1993 agreement with the World Trade Organization, agreed to gradually raise its rice import quota expected to reach over 400-thousand tons this year, in exchange for delaying the opening of its rice market.
But the government, on Friday, seemed to have changed its mind, saying it's moving toward liberalizing its rice market.
Officials from trade and agriculture ministry said that the cost of postponing rice market liberalization and raising the import quota to an even higher level, is just too big, especially when rice consumption continues to drop in the nation.
In 2012, Korea spent some 290-million U.S. dollars to import around 360-thousand tons of rice under its import quota.
While the nation's rice market will inevitably open up, experts still say that measures to protect the nation's rice production is critical.
"Demand for domestically produced rice will exist, just like beef. So measures like setting up high-end marketing strategies for Korean rice will be needed to protect the local market and farmers."
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Experts add that rice market liberalization could also create a leeway for other free trade negotiations, which are important for a country that's heavily dependent on exports.
But facing strong opposition from local farmers and parliament, a final decision on opening the country's rice market remains a tough task.
An official announcement is expected to come around next week.
Hwang Ji-hye, Arirang News.