Tue, May 13, 2008 - Page 11 News List

Japan may re-export foreign rice

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Japan, self-sufficient in rice, may export some of the grain it imported under a WTO agreement, alleviating a global supply shortage.

Japan is in talks with the Philippines, the world’s largest importer of the grain, about shipments from Japan’s foreign rice stockpiles of about 1.2 million tonnes, a government official said in an interview in Tokyo. The official declined to be identified as discussions are informal.

Rice supplies in the international market declined as exporting countries such as Vietnam and India restricted shipments, boosting prices of the staple for half the world’s population. Rice, wheat, corn and soybeans climbed to records this year, triggering social unrest from Haiti to Egypt.

“Japanese rice shipment would be helpful for importing countries such as the Philippines, as grain traders don’t have much to sell in the international market because of export restrictions,” Nobuyuki Chino, president of Tokyo-based grain trading company Unipac Grain Ltd, said yesterday.

Rice for delivery in July rose as much as US$0.41, or 1.8 percent, to US$23.385 per 100lbs (45.4kg) on the Chicago Board of Trade today and traded at US$23.17 in Tokyo. The most-active contract reached an all-time high of US$25.07 on April 24 and has doubled in the past year.

Japan agreed to give so-called minimum market access to rice-exporting countries at the Uruguay Round of world trade talks that ended in December 1993 and bought a total of 8.32 million tonnes of foreign rice from April 1995 to October last year.

The government has had difficulty finding domestic buyers for the imported rice because of abundant local supplies, the official said.

Of the total imports, 3 million tonnes were sold to Japanese food processors, 840,000 tonnes were used as table rice and 730,000 tonnes were fed to animals during the period. The remainder was used for food aid and stockpiles.

Japan is not required under WTO rules to obtain approval to export foreign rice from the inventories, the official said on Friday. Shipments would be viable as global prices are above the level paid for the imports, he said.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries needs to agree with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on export volumes and destinations, before it can proceed with shipments.

The benchmark export price of Thai 100 percent grade B white rice gained 10 percent to a record US$941 a tonne last week, the Thai Rice Exporters Association said. Japan paid ¥81,612 (US$790) a tonne on average at a rice import tender on March 18.

Tomas Escarez, a spokesman for the Philippines’ National Food Authority, said on Friday that Japan offered to ship 60,000 tonnes of rice to the Southeast Asian country. The Japanese government official did not confirm the information at the interview.

Japan imported 630,550 tonnes of rice in the year ended on March 31. Rice production in Japan is estimated at 8.73 million tonnes in the year to June 30, exceeding domestic consumption by 230,000 tonnes, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said.

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