Imported U.S. Rice Loses Its Luster

    May 08, 2006 20:25

    Calrose Rice from the U.S., once a much-coveted delicacy, is failing to find any takers among Korean consumers whose own domestic brands are much improved. Many here feared the opening of Korea’s market to limited U.S. imports would damage domestic producers, but that has not happened, and word on the street is that Calrose Rice is deficient in consistency and tastes re-heated.

    In the 1970s and 80s, there was a lively black market for Calrose Rice smuggled from U.S. military bases. Given its popularity then, farmers worried that its official import would deal a devastating blow to Korean rice producers.

    Some 2,752 tons of first-grade Calrose Rice were imported since late March under last year’s rice agreement with Washington, but only 450 tons have been sold to wholesalers. The remainder sits in waregouses at the Agriculture and Fisheries Marketing Corporation. A fifth auction for imported rice on May 3 again saw no bids from wholesalers for the second consecutive week.

    “Calrose Rice was once considered something special that only the privileged could enjoy, but today we have as many as 1,900 domestic rice brands, and they have greatly improved in quality. That’s why Korean consumers don’t find Calrose Rice that attractive,” an official with the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry said. What is more, the U.S. rice lost its price edge since the Korean government set the price at similar levels to Korean products.

    “In the end, the domestic rice market will be divided into two, just like Japan’s: low-priced imported rice and high-priced domestic rice,” the ministry official said. “It is important to convince our farmers that cheap imported rice does not lead to price erosion for domestic varieties.”

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