First United States rice shipment for market sale arrives in South Korea

The first shipment of U.S. rice for direct sale to consumers arrived in South Korea Thursday amid farmer protests against foreign rice imports.

The shipment comes as part of a 2004 agreement that South Korea signed with the United States , China , Thailand and six other rice-producing countries, to gradually open up its rice market.

About 13,000 tons of American rice arrived at the port of Busan, South Korea's second largest city about 450 kilometers (280 miles) south of Seoul, early Thursday, according to the Agriculture and Forest Ministry.

South Korean farmers strongly oppose opening the country's rice market and have held violent rallies in protest, claiming they are already heavily indebted and that their plight would worsen if cheaper foreign rice floods into the country.

About 100 farmers staged an overnight rally outside the Busan port to protest the U.S. rice arrival. They briefly scuffled with riot police as they attempted to enter the port to disrupt its unloading, according to South Korea 's Yonhap news agency. No injuries were reported.

South Korea began importing rice from the U.S. and other countries on a limited basis in 1995. But until now all imports have been used at food-processing factories to make products such as rice crackers, not sold directly to consumers.

The U.S. rice will be on market early next month after quarantine and customs clearance, the ministry said.

The 2004 deal calls for South Korea to gradually double its current 4 percent limit on rice imports by 2014, and eventually fully open the market with tariffs still allowed. Parliament endorsed the agreement in November after delays due to farmer protests.

In Donghae, a port city about 280 kilometers (174 miles) east of Seoul, about eight farmers forcefully boarded a Vietnamese cargo ship and staged protests as it was unloading Chinese rice, but all of them were taken away by police, the ministry said.

Two farmers lost their lives during clashes with riot police last year. President Roh Moo-hyun apologized publicly and the country's police chief resigned to take responsibility, reports the AP.


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