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작성일 : 10-10-04 17:08
Government moves to counter rising produce prices
 글쓴이 : chungwoo
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Fresh produce costs for September have shown the largest on-year jump since statistics were first gathered on the subject in 1990. Cost of living surged and consumer prices were driven up by rising costs of basic grocery items such as fruits and vegetables.

To mitigate the rise in produce costs as kimchi-making season nears, the government outlined a plan that includes a temporary elimination of tariffs on imported produce.

According to a report released yesterday by Statistics Korea, the fresh-produce price index jumped a whopping 45.5 percent last month from a year ago, the highest yearly gain Korea has seen in two decades. This in turn drove the consumer price index up 3.6 percent from September of last year.

“Compared to the previous month [of August], the rising cost of agricultural, livestock and marine products accounted for 88 percent of the overall increase in consumer prices,” said Lee Uk-won, an official at the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, which released its analysis of the statistics yesterday. “In particular, vegetables took up 70 percent of the increase in consumer prices, driving the sharp increase in prices this September.”

The prices of various vegetables have risen more than 200 percent in the span of a year. Lettuce prices have risen 233.6 percent, pumpkins 219.9 percent and young radishes 205.6 percent.

But the crops that put the greatest burden on citizens’ pocketbooks have been white (Chinese) cabbages and white radishes, which are subject to massive, unvarying demand because of their widespread use in kimchi. They posted a 118.9 percent and 165.6 percent on-year increase in price, respectively.

Chinese-cabbage production in the highlands of Korea shrank from a yearly average of 250,000 tons to just 150,000 tons this year, with crops often rotting due to alternating spells of hot weather and heavy rainfall. Cabbages grown at high altitudes traditionally meet the bulk of demand in the fall.

Tofu and bean sprouts are popular with market customers who cope with escalating grocery prices by buying items that have not seen such dramatic price increases.

“I can’t stock enough bean sprouts,” said a vegetable merchant at a traditional market in Hwagok-dong, western Seoul. “Customers buy them because it’s just about the only affordable thing left.”

Meanwhile, the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries announced a plan yesterday to temporarily eliminate tariffs on imported white cabbages and white radishes, the two main kimchi ingredients.

Currently, the tax on each vegetable is 30 percent and 27 percent, respectively - instituted to stave off a potential flood of cheap Chinese vegetables in the domestic market.

“We plan to remove the tariffs through the end of December,” said Kim Do-bum, an official at the Agriculture Ministry. “Hopefully the tide will turn by then. We predict that it will be unnecessary after that, as the kimchi-making season will end and demand will fall.”

In addition, the state-run Korea Agro-Fisheries Trade Corporation (aT) will first import 100 tons of white cabbage and 50 tons of white radish this month, with more on the way as the situation develops.

As the proposed raft of imports falls far short of the 180,000 tons of cabbage and 97,000 tons of radish estimated to be lost in this year’s domestic vegetable supply, the ministry official stressed that this is simply a stop-gap measure subject to adjustment.

“We checked the availability of the supply [in China] and determined that it was all we could bring over on short notice,” Kim said. “Because the situation is unusual, this is the first time a government agency is importing such produce directly. But the best solution would be for domestic production to bounce back again.”

The Agriculture Ministry will implement a process of “thorough quarantines and safety checks” to ensure the safety of the vegetable imports.

Other measures include encouraging the early circulation of leftover domestic cabbages and radishes, state support for 80 percent of the cost of composite fertilizer to increase domestic production, and tighter regulation of unfair trade practices.

Meanwhile, the Agriculture Ministry denied claims that the four rivers restoration project has contributed to rising produce prices through a reduction of farmland, as vegetable farmland near the rivers only amounts to 1.4 percent of the entire amount of land devoted to vegetable production in Korea.