Sep 16, 1988


GENEVA, SEPTEMBER 14 (IFDA/CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN) -- Japan has ruled out "complete liberalisation" of trade in agriculture, and has made clear that rice imports into Japan would have to continue to be restricted.

Japan’s Deputy Director-General for Economic Affairs in the Foreign Ministry, Katsuhisa Uchida, reportedly told the Uruguay round negotiating group on agriculture this week, that Japan ruled out "complete liberalisation" of trade in agriculture.

The rules for agriculture trade, Uchida reportedly said, should have provisions for exceptions though under clearly defined and rigorous conditions, the general GATT prohibitions against QRS contained in article XI.

Such exceptions should cover "basic foodstuffs", which in Japan’s case this would be rice.

In Japan, Uchida reportedly added, "there is a solid national consensus that ‘basic foodstuffs’ such as rice, should be treated as exceptions in respect of the general principle of trade liberalisation and should be supplied domestically even if it entails a relatively higher cost".

While basic foodstuffs meant rice for Japan, for other participants it might be other products.

Japanese statement has come even as rice millers in the U.S. were initiating action, under the recently enacted U.S. trade law, for opening Japanese markets o rice imports, under threat of unilateral retaliation.

In terms of the proposed mid-term review, the Japanese delegate foresaw some short-term actions to prevent deteriorations of the world market situation in agriculture, and further measures to improve it.

The measures, he said, should be implemented in clear recognition that the present world trade in agriculture "is besieged and suffers from structural surpluses exacerbated by export subsidies".

Agreement to implement short-term actions should be a political rather than a legal commitment, and should be agreed upon at the same time as the fundamentals of a long-term framework.

While the latter should achieve greater liberalisation and provide more discipline in regulating measures distorting trade, "it is crucial that the roles of agriculture which are not purely economic, such as food security and protection of environment, should be recognised and reflected in the long-term discipline".

The final picture could not be one of "complete liberalisation" (which is demanded by the U.S. and Cairns Group), but should allow exceptions to article XI.

Japan had no intention of expanding or reinforcing import restrictions through the concept of "basic foodstuffs" – agricultural products on which a nation depended for its fundamental nutritional needs and a fortiori extremely limited for each country.

But stable supply of such "basic foodstuffs" would be essential for every country from the viewpoint of food security, and for countries with a low self-sufficiency rate of food.

The maintenance of stable level of domestic supply was indispensable in safeguarding the livelihood of its citizens and this was "a political requirement, which transcends mere logic of economy"