Japan decides to import rice

TOKYO - The Japanese government yesterday announced it would import rice this year to compensate for a shortfall in the domestic harvest, despite a long-standing ban on buying foreign rice to promote self-sufficiency in the staple, writes Terry McCarthy.

The decision will undermine Japan's hardline stance at the Gatt talks on liberalising world trade, where it has so far refused to agree to any change in its ban on rice imports. But the government made clear the purchase was a one-off decision and did not signify a weakening of its ban on importing rice.

Bad weather throughout the summer has made this year's rice harvest the worst since the war, with the total crop likely to be just 8.5 million tons, instead of the projected 10.5 million tons. Industry sources say that Japan will need to import at least 1 million tons to satisfy domestic demand - making the country the biggest importer of rice in the world. The imported rice is likely to come from the United States, Thailand and Australia.

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