The government has decided to fully open the rice market to imports. It will put an end to caps on rice imports in 2015 and instead manage imports through tariffs to protect domestic farmers.
Korea has been facing rising pressure to open its rice market ahead of the expiry of a 20-year-old agreement on import quotas with the World Trade Organization.
The only WTO member nations that have not opened their market to rice imports are Korea and the Philippines.
The government has been in talks with the WTO over the issue and decided there was no alternative but to open up to imports of the staple grain. Even if it refused, it would have to increase the import quota two or three-fold.
The mandatory import quota has grown by 20,000 tons every year and now accounts for nine percent (409,000 tons) of Korea's total annual consumption.
An Agriculture Ministry official said, "The government's view is that opening the rice market and imposing tariffs on imports would have a smaller impact on domestic farmers than boosting the mandatory import quota."
What the tariffs will be is unclear. The government will not talk about specific figures because it still has to negotiate the matter with the WTO.
But experts believe a tariff of some 400 percent, or roughly four times the price of imported rice, would ensure imported rice is more expensive than locally-grown varieties.
Fierce opposition is expected from farmers and other agricultural lobby groups.