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SEOUL, March 12 (Reuters) - South Korea plans to lift import tariffs for chicken from early April in a bid to prevent price increases amid the country's worst bird flu outbreak and a ban on U.S. poultry imports, its agriculture ministry said on Sunday.
The import tariff cuts are likely to take effect from early April after consultations with other related ministries, the agriculture ministry said in a statement. The ministry expected the cuts to help stablise local chicken prices as imported chickens are cheaper than domestic ones.
The move comes as South Korean producers are seeking to raise chicken prices following the country's ban on U.S. poultry imports after a bird flu outbreak in the United States last week, stoking fears of a chicken shortage. b]
South Korea is self-sufficient in chicken supplies, but it also imports chicken for processed food, mainly from Brazil.
Along with the import tariff cuts, the ministry said it will release 2,000 tonnes of government chicken inventory from March 21 at lower prices to ease worries over supply.
The average chicken retail price per kilogram rose 5.7 percent to 5,713 won ($4.98) as of March 10 since the country's import ban of U.S. poultry on March 6, according to state-run Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corp. Despite the price increase, it was seen lower than the yearly average price of 5,938 won.
South Korea, Asia's fourth-largest economy, has been grappling with a bird flu outbreak since late last year, culling more than 35 million farm birds, or over a fifth of South Korean poultry.
$1 = 1,147.8100 won Reporting by Jane Chung; Editing by Stephen Coates