Parties show mixed responses to rice market opening

SEOUL, July 18 (Yonhap) -- Rival political parties showed mixed responses Friday to the government's plan to open the rice market to tariffed imports next year, with the ruling party calling it an inevitable decision and the main opposition party demanding a rethink.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs announced the plan earlier in the day, saying it concluded that opening the rice market with import tariffs is inevitable and also the best choice available as another waiver would force the country to expand its mandatory import quota.

The ruling Saenuri Party expressed agreement with the government's stance.

"Delaying the opening of the market any further would lead to an increase in the mandatory import quota from 400,000 tons this year to as much as 820,000 tons, causing us to bear inventories and various financial burdens," Rep. Min Hyun-joo, a spokesperson of the ruling party, said in a press briefing.

"The tariffication of rice is a very difficult decision but the most realistic and inevitable alternative the government can choose."

Min urged the government to do all it can to settle on the highest tariff possible in negotiations with the World Trade Organization so as to maintain the price competitiveness of locally produced rice.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) demanded the government reconsider the move and called for a four-way forum involving the government, the rival parties and farmer groups to discuss the issue.

"The 'uncommunicative agricultural administration' of the Park Geun-hye government, which arbitrarily announced the full opening of the rice market without once offering a proper explanation to farmers and the public, is driving farmers to despair," Rep. Yoo Ki-hong, senior spokesman of the NPAD, said during a separate press briefing.

He also accused Park of breaking her presidential campaign pledge to personally look after the agriculture sector, saying his party will re-examine the opening of the rice market from the perspective of farmers during the regular parliamentary session that begins in September.

<All rights reserved by Yonhap News Agency>