Government to Open Rice Market

Farmers Demand Food Sovereignty


South Korea formally informed the World Trade Organization (WTO) yesterday that it intends to open up its rice market starting next year with an import tariff of 513 percent, according to Yonhap News.

The government has submitted to the WTO secretariat its plan to revise the country’s tariff rate on rice imports ahead of market opening through tarrification that will go into effect Jan. 1, 2015,” announced the South Korea’s Trade, Industry and Energy Ministry in its press release.

Rice market liberalization has been a hotly-contested subject between the nation’s farmers and the Park Geun-hye government as South Korea approaches the expiration of an agreement with the WTO that had allowed it to delay opening its rice market.

The government says it will protect domestically-produced rice by maintaining high tariffs and ensuring that rice is exempt from bound tariffs in all future free trade agreements (FTA), including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  But farmers are staunchly opposed to the government’s plan and accuses the government of giving up on food sovereignty.

(What rice tariffication means, its historical background, and why it will lead to declining food self-sufficiency is explained in part 2 of this article.)

Farmers across the country staged a series of protests ahead of yesterday’s government announcement.


rice protest - farmers with rice plants

September 17 – Farmers in Jinju, South Gyeongsang Province protest rice market opening  (Photo credit – Lee Yong-gu, South Gyeongsang Province News)


rice protest - march led by tractors

September 18 – Farmers in Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province march to protest rice market liberalization  (Photo credit – Kim Si-beom, Kyeonggi Daily)


rice protest - Jeju farmers throw rice

September 18 – Jeju farmers spray rice outside the Jeju provincial office of the ruling Saenuri Party to protest rice market liberalization  (Photo credit – Newsis)

rice protest - disruption at parliamentOn September 17, farmers, led by Korean Peasants League Chair Kim Young-ho, disrupted a parliamentary meeting on rice tariffication. Holding pickets that read ‘No rice market liberalization,’ some threw eggs and red pepper flakes at the meeting of ruling party and government officials, including Saenuri Chair Kim Mu-seong.

Unsettled by the protest, the ruling Saenuri Party pointed its finger at Unified Progressive Party (UPP) Representative Oh Byung-yun and has accused him of orchestrating the protest.  23 Saenuri Party members, led by party chair Kim Mu-seong, have submitted a proposal for disciplinary action against Representative Oh.

It is the Saenuri Party, which threatens rice market liberalization and uses violence against citizens, that truly deserves disciplinary action,” replied UPP in an official statement.

The Secretariat of the National Assembly, which reported the protest to the local police, is pressing charges against the farmers who participated in the action.


rice protest - stepping on imported rice

September 18 – Farmers step on imported rice at a protest against rice market opening (Photo credit – Kim Si-beom, Kyeonggi Daily)


rice protest - KCTU

September 24 – Korean Confederation of Trade Unions press conference in solidarity with farmers to oppose rice market opening  (Photo credit – Voice of People)


rice protest - 5000 at city hall plaza

September 27 – 5000 farmers gathered at City Hall Plaza in Seoul to oppose rice tariffication and defend food sovereignty  (Photo credit – Yang Ki-woong, Voice of People)


rice protest - burning rice

September 27 – Burning rice to symbolize the burial of the government’s liberalization policy  (Photo credit – Yang Ki-woong, Voice of People)

August 20 – Women farmers blocked by the police as they attempted to march to the Blue House to protest rice tariffication

At 0:28 of the video, a woman yells, “We are women farmers from across the country and have come together to oppose the opening of our rice market and defend our food sovereignty.  The reason why women farmers are gathered here is because the Park Geun-hye government tramples on the people’s right to life…” before she is cut off by a police warning to disperse.


September 18 – Farmers march with a coffin to symbolize the burial of the government’s rice market liberalization policy.


June 28 – Police use water cannons before arresting protesters in a march to oppose rice market liberalization.

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