(LEAD) Nat'l Assembly passes bill requiring gov't purchase of excess rice
(ATTN: UPDATES with presidential office's response)
SEOUL, March 23 (Yonhap) -- The main opposition Democratic Party (DP)-controlled National Assembly on Thursday passed a contentious bill that requires the government to purchase surplus rice from farmers if there is excess production or price falls.
The revision to the Grain Management Act was approved in a 169-90 vote in the National Assembly. The ruling People Power Party (PPP) has opposed the bill, vowing to ask President Yoon Suk Yeol to veto it if it passes the Assembly.
The bill requires the government to buy excess rice if production exceeds the estimate of demand by 3-5 percent, or if prices fall by 5-8 percent or more compared with the previous year.
The DP has argued the bill can protect farmers and stabilize rice prices, as rice demand has been on a steady decline due mainly to changes in diet and eating habits.
Last year, South Koreans consumed 56.7 kilograms of rice on average, an all-time low since the government began compiling related data in 1962. The government spent around 1 trillion won (US$780 million) to purchase rice to counter a fall in price coming from oversupply.
The PPP and the government have opposed the bill, citing budget concerns. They also called for a more fundamental measure in tackling the issue, saying the revision could worsen oversupply and lead to a steeper fall in rice prices.
Saying the bill will "only destroy our agriculture industry and put the government in trouble," PPP floor leader Joo Ho-young said he will urge the government to use its veto power.
The presidential office said in a text message to reporters that once the bill is sent to the government, it will listen carefully to the concerns and opinions of various circles, and "deliberate thoroughly."
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