Korea will open its rice market next year.
Agriculture Minister Lee Dong-phil said Friday that it's simply too costly to import more rice, which was the trade-off for postponing rice market liberalization.
Korea promised to open up its rice market under a 1994 agreement with the World Trade Organization.
But because rice is a Korean staple food, the country was allowed to push back the date for 20 years, in exchange for gradually raising its rice import quota.
That extension is set to expire at the end of this year.
"The import quota of over 400-thousand tons this year, which makes up 9 percent of the nation's total rice consumption based on 2013, is a heavy burden on the nation's overall rice market, especially since rice consumption continues to drop in Korea."
(2014 409 2013 9% , .)
While the government says it will protect the domestic market by imposing high tariffs on foreign rice, it did not provide specific numbers.
Pundits are expecting the tariff rate to fall at around 4-hundred percent.
They say. that level of tariff would ensure that Korean rice maintains its price competitiveness against Chinese or American rice, which can cost half the price, or even less.
The government also laid out plans to support the nation's rice industry through an insurance program, meant to stabilize rural household incomes.
Korean farmers, however, on Friday continued a massive protest that began the day before.
They said they intended to protect the nation's food sovereignty that the government seems to have handed away.
"The government is giving our jar of rice to the U.S. and China or other countries that are rich in grain. This will never guarantee the food security of Koreans."
The government plans to set the nation's tariff rate on rice and have it verified by the WTO by this September.
It said it would work hard to gain full understanding from local farmers about the change.
Hwang Ji-hye, Arirang News.