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Japan Refuses to End Rice Import Ban : Trade: Despite the rejection of the U.S. plea, Agriculture Secretary Clayton Yeutter predicts an easing before year-end.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Japan on Monday again rebuffed a plea that it remove its ban on rice imports, but Agriculture Secretary Clayton K. Yeutter predicted that it would agree to do so before year-end.

“Rice may be an item of interest to the United States, but it is a matter of life and death to Japan,” Agriculture Minister Tomio Yamamoto told Yeutter, ruling out even partial liberalization.

Yeutter also asked his Japanese counterpart to lower the government-regulated price of imported wheat, which he said is sold to consumers at four times international market prices. He further urged that government controls be abolished on barley imports and asked Japan to abolish quota and tariff restraints on starch imports.

Yamamoto accepted a bag of California rice from Yeutter, and, in return, handed the American a pamphlet titled “Our Rice.”

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Yeutter has made rice the No. 1 issue of the moment in U.S.-Japan economic relations by declaring that the Uruguay Round of multinational trade negotiations that will end in December cannot succeed without a lifting of Japan’s import ban. But Yamamoto and other officials have refused to budge from their insistence upon total protection for Japan’s 4 million rice farming households, nearly all of which support the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Later Monday, in a talk at the Japan National Press Club, Yeutter said he is “cautiously optimistic” that Japan will ultimately agree to a gradual market opening in time to conclude the Uruguay Round.

“Japan has so much at stake in the Uruguay Round that it must make a contribution,” he said.

Yeutter said he recognized that it is “difficult for Japan to make the rice decision early” but said the earlier the decision comes, the better it would be. “That would send a very positive signal for the Uruguay Round negotiations as a whole,” he said.

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The agriculture secretary offered Japan assurances that the United States is demanding neither a complete nor a dramatic opening of the rice market.

“Nobody is asking for this overnight. It has never been the position of the United States that Japan should liberalize its agricultural market immediately. . . . We are prepared to have adjustment in rice, or any agricultural product, be handled in a gradual way,” he said.

Yeutter, who earlier said the United States would accept tariffs of as high as 700% on rice imports into Japan, said it also is willing to accept a system of tariffs combined with quotas, if Japan preferred.

To meet Japan’s concerns over security of its food supplies, he said the United States would agree to abolish a law that gives the President the power to embargo American exports of agricultural goods in case of shortages. Yeutter said the Administration would forgo the embargo power “except in critical situations such as the one involving Iraq.”

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Yeutter told Yamamoto and reporters that a highly protectionist 1990 farm bill that both houses of Congress passed three weeks ago would be revised if the Uruguay Round produces a package of agricultural reforms. Differences in the Senate and the House versions of the bill have not been ironed out.

“I know the government of Japan is under great pressure to retain the status quo on rice,” Yeutter said, “but rice is not the only politically difficult issue in the world.”


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