The World Trade Organization (WTO) has decided to work out details about agricultural market opening by July this year, a government negotiator said.

The opening of farm markets is a key goal of the WTO-led Doha Development Agenda (DDA) that also aims at liberalizing services and five other sectors.

“At a meeting early this month, a WTO ad hoc panel decided to set a modality on agricultural market opening by July,” Youn Jang-bae, assistant minister for international trade and cooperation at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, told a weekly press briefing.

“Once a modality is agreed upon, each member state will be obliged to submit their respective schedule for opening the farm markets to outside competition.”

Youn represented South Korea at the Special Session of the WTO Committee on Agriculture in Geneva on Feb. 7-11.

Once modalities for the seven sectors are agreed upon at a WTO ministerial meeting slated for Hong Kong in December, the results of the DDA talks may go into effect as early as in 2007, he said.

“With differences remaining over such key issues as tariffs and subsidies, however, it is still unclear whether the DDA talks may be concluded by yearend,” he said. “But the government should brace for it.”

He said such an agreement would have a far greater impact on South Korea since the DDA talks encompass the entire agricultural sector, from rice to state subsidies and each governments’ domestic farm policies.

“The effect would far outweigh (the results of) rice talks that were concluded late last year because a new set of standards for granting ‘developing country status’ will be put forward,” Youn said.

South Korea wants to retain its developing country status in the agricultural field because it will allow Seoul to maintain higher tariffs that hold off foreign farm products.

He further said Seoul is moving to reduce direct subsidies to farmers and adopt a “strategic reserve” system for rice because DDA talks stipulate this as a necessity.

“Our aim is to moderate the pressure by agriculture-exporting countries to sharply cut state subsidies for farm products and to preserve special treatment for sensitive agricultural products,” the official said.

He added that South Korea opposes the establishment of “tariff ceilings” that exporting countries are calling for, as well as any moves to abolish a tariff rate quota that has been used to protect its domestic rice market. (Yonhap/Asia Pulse)