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SEOUL, Jan 3 (Reuters) - South Korea's import tariffs on egg products will be cut to zero from Wednesday as part of the government's efforts to ease an egg shortage sparked by the country's worst-ever bird flu epidemic.
South Korea's agriculture ministry said on Tuesday the tariff cut will be applied to a total of 98,600 tonnes of eight types of egg products including fresh eggs, liquid egg and egg powder until June 30 and, if necessary, it will consider extending the period.
At present, tariffs of 8 percent to 30 percent are imposed on imported egg products but Korea has not imported fresh eggs since 1999.
"Tariffs on imported egg products such as fresh eggs and processed egg products will be lowered," Lee Jun-won, Vice Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, said at a briefing.
"In the case of fresh eggs, even if the government funds air freight costs, considering current local egg prices, still imported egg prices will be higher so it will be difficult to import for the moment but more processed egg products can be brought into Korea," Lee said.
The move comes as Asia's fourth-largest economy is grappling with its worst-ever bird flu outbreak. After the first confirmation on Nov. 18, the country has culled a record 30 million birds and raised its bird flu alert to the highest level.
As most of the culled birds are egg-laying chickens, the bird flu outbreak has led to a sharp increase in egg prices due to tightening supplies.
The average retail price for 30 eggs has jumped nearly 52 percent since the outbreak started to 8,251 won ($6.85) as of Monday, according to state-run Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corp.
Korea's agriculture ministry is in discussions with the United States to clear egg imports and is planning to finalise the negotiations as early as possible, according to the ministry statement.
The ministry also said it will simplify import procedures to speed up egg imports and seek to relieve the egg shortage ahead of Lunar New Year holiday in late January.
$1 = 1,204.4100 won Reporting By Jane Chung; Additional reporting by Nataly Pak in SEOUL; Editing by Christian Schmollinger