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In Japan, rice goes upscale
The Koshihikari brand of rice from Uonuma, Niigata prefecture of Japan, is popular in the country, though its price is double that of other brands in the county's market. So visitors to Uonuma may be excused if they are puzzled by all the rice fields that aren't being used. "Twenty-three percent of rice fields in this region now lie fallow, because the rice production is inclined to exceed demand," said Mitsuo Sato, head of the farming planning section at the Niigata agricultural cooperative. "If the output were not adjusted like this, the price would drop, damaging the farmers in the long run." In Japan, 1.1 million hectares of rice fields, or 30 percent of the total rice fields, are left fallow this year, for output adjustment. The Japanese government offers farmers subsidies to not grow rice. Following Japan's move, Korea introduced a similar subsidy system in 2002, but only 3 percent of the domestic rice fields now lie fallow. In addition, most of the fallow land is in mountains with relatively low productivity, so the system has little effect in reining in production levels. Japan, as well as Korea, had been allowed to delay adopting a flat-tariff system on rice imports that was agreed upon in the 1995 Uruguay round of global trade talks. Japan had protected its rice market with high tariffs, while importing a limited amount of rice at low tariffs in exchange for the delay of a flat-tariff system. In 1999, before the six-year grace period for the country expired, Tokyo abolished the limit on rice imports and began to impose a flat tariff. But rice imports did not surge, because the country had for long prepared for competition from imports by producing high-quality rice of its own in limited amounts. "We had discussed for years whether to convert to a flat tariff system or to expand the low-tariff import quota up to 8 percent of domestic consumption in exchange for delaying the conversion further," said Hirohumi Kobayashi, head of the free trade talks team at the Japan National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations. "We concluded that we should not expand the quota any more because of the increasing rice inventory," he said. "And we became certain that even if we abolished the quantity limit on imports, rice imports would not soar, considering the quality of domestic rice and a flat tariff we can impose." On the other hand, Taiwan's rice farmers have been suffering because the nation opened its rice market without sufficient preparation. American and Japanese rice has won Taiwan's market. The Taiwanese government is having difficulties in seeking measures to reduce the nation's rice fields by 30,000 hectares per year to stabilize rice prices and reduce rice inventory. The government is also hoping to find jobs for those who had no choice but to give up farming. Job security isn't something Japanese farmers worry about. "Because Koshihikari rice is the No.1 rice in the world, I'm not concerned about foreign rice," Misato Miyauchi, 52, a farmer in Uonuma, said proudly. She is making a profit of 20 million yen ($188,000) per year on her rice and mushroom farming. She said the high quality of the Uonuma rice has been made not only by the region's natural conditions, such as the heavy snow in winter that kills vermin, but also by the farmers' and the agricultural cooperative's work to improve the quality of rice. They are even taking satellite pictures of rice fields in autumn and evaluating the protein levels of rice to determine the best time to harvest. Based on such efforts, Japan exported 538 tons of rice to Taiwan, China and the United States and other countries in 2002. Japan wants to export 50,000 tons of rice over the next three years. Domestic consumption of rice is still important, as seen at the Rice Gallery in the upscale district of Ginza, in central Tokyo, which was built 13 years ago to advertise the nation‘s rice products
MGR Archive 4.11.2004
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Region Type Price  
Russia Rapan $ 700
USA Jupiter Rice $630
USA Calrose #1 $830
USA Calrose #1 Paddy $480
EU Prices Baldo €660
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