Angry farmers threaten spring pork shortage

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Angry farmers threaten spring pork shortage


Korea could be in for a pork crunch after farmers threatened to stop distribution to protest the government’s extension of untaxed pork imports.

With officials confirming that the zero-tariff imports will go ahead, it remains to be seen whether the parties will find middle ground in time for spring’s peak pork season, when Koreans start going on barbeque outings and eating pork to combat the yellow dust from China. Samgyeopsal, or pork belly, is considered helpful for combatting the effects of yellow dust storms.

Late Wednesday, supplier group Korea Swine Association (KSA) announced that it had decided to stop all distribution of pork starting April 2, and stage an indefinite protest before the National Assembly in Yeouido, western Seoul.

The group, which represents 5,000 pork farms that produce more than 95 percent of domestic pork, is protesting the government’s decision to import some 70,000 additional tons of zero-duty pork during the second quarter of this year.

The government recently decided to import the zero-tariff pork after importing the same amount during the first quarter in order to control prices. Last year, the government imported 230,000 tons of pork at zero duty after the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak caused the price of pork to skyrocket.

Farmers claim that the extension of zero-duty imports will cripple the domestic pork industry.

“Pork prices fell more than 20 percent below the upper limit of the government’s target band, cutting into thin margins caused by feed costs rising more than 40 percent in the last two years,” said a KSA spokesperson.

“Zero-duty imports are unnecessary as the tariff on frozen pork belly already fell from 25 to 16 percent due to the Korea-U.S. free trade pact,” he said.

The wholesale price of pork belly - the most popular cut in Korea - was 4,401 won ($3.87) per kilogram in February, dropping more than 30 percent from a year ago; the average retail price of pork was 1,664 won per 100 grams, dropping by 22 percent from a year ago.

However, the government begs to differ. “The price of pork belly is said to have fallen, but is actually 20 to 30 percent higher than the past five-year average,” said an official from the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

“A retraction [of the zero-duty imports] is unlikely,” said Ha Sung, head of the customs policy division at the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, “but we plan to watch the supply and demand situation and apply the duty system in a flexible manner.”


By Lee Jung-yoon [joyce@joongang.co.kr]

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