As Chuseok nears, gov’t tries to cut food prices
According to data from the Korea Agro-Fisheries and Food Trade Corporation, the average wholesale price of a 20-kilogram (44-pound) package of rice in the markets across the country stood at 46,060 won ($41.54) on Wednesday, nearly 30 percent higher than its price a year ago.
The price of 10 kilograms of napa cabbage went from 17,280 won on Aug. 30 of last year to 23,000 won on Wednesday, up 25 percent.
Although the prices of food vary depending on the organization providing the information, general trends in the local market show a drastic spike.
The price of napa cabbage in Seoul jumped by over 70 percent last year as of Wednesday, according to data from the Korea Rural Economic Institute.
The average price of apples, which are in especially high demand during the Chuseok harvest holiday, increased by as much as 80 percent in Seoul, depending on the variety.
The rising prices of agricultural products have been a major headache for the government this summer, as the country was battered by unfavorable weather conditions, including scorching heat and unexpectedly heavy rain.
The prices are expected to push up further when Chuseok comes around. This year, Chuseok falls on the fourth week of September.
“The prices of some agricultural products as well as products that are in high demand during the holiday season have skyrocketed due to the heat wave, which was followed by the typhoon and rain,” said an official from the Finance Ministry. “This raised concerns among government officials about an increased burden on consumers as well as local store owners and farmers.”
As a result, officials and lawmakers from the government, Blue House and the ruling Democratic Party decided in a meeting on Thursday to roll out pre-emptive measures, including discounts of up to 70 percent on certain products at designated locations, such as some Nonghyup supermarkets.
Officials and lawmakers that attended the meeting include Lee Nak-yon, Korea’s prime minister, Jang Ha-sung, the Blue House policy director, and Lee Hae-chan, the new chief of the ruling party.
In the past, the government announced similar measures and offers about two weeks before the Chuseok. But this time around, it decided to do so 23 days before the start of the holiday, an indication that the government considers the current situation to be more serious than usual.
“The government decided to introduce the plan earlier than usual by taking the recent hike in the prices of goods into consideration,” said another official at the Finance Ministry.
The government will also increase the amount of produce on sale across the country by as 1.5 times more than the average by releasing stores from its stockpiles.
Lee Jae-wook, the head of the Food Industry Policy Office at the Agriculture Ministry, said the government will distribute the goods from the stockpile throughout the holiday to stabilize supplies.
The authorities will also increase the amount of financial support given to small business owners and low-income people during the holidays by as much as six trillion won compared to last Chuseok.
About five billion won in loans will be given to merchants at traditional markets so they can purchase goods to sell before the holiday season begins.
Other benefits given out by the government for the holiday include waiving highway tolls from Sept. 23 to 25 as well as free parking at public parking lots.
BY CHOI HYUNG-JO [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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