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ECONOMY > Agriculture

Foreign rice growers urge Japan to open up its market

  • April 24, 2018
  • , Nikkei , p. 2
  • JMH Translation

The presence of foreign rice is growing in Japan, where rice imports have been strictly controlled. In the Japanese government’s bids in fiscal 2017, the import quota for rice for human consumption as a staple food reached its limit of 100,000 tons for the first time in five years. More and more restaurants and supermarkets are using foreign rice, taking advantage of its lower price. Foreign rice growers are poised to press Japan to open up its market by taking advantage of a steep rise in the prices of domestically produced rice.

 

20% cheaper per kilogram

 

In late March, major supermarket chain operator Seiyu underscored the low price of “Uraraka” rice from Australia at one of its stores with a sign saying, “Super Low Price.”  A four-kilogram bag of Uraraka rice carries a price tag of 1,180 yen (excluding tax), which is 20% cheaper than “Nanatsuboshi” rice from Hokkaido per kilogram. This is the first time in five years for Seiyu to carry Australian rice. It has been aggressively marketing the Uraraka rice at its 144 stores primarily in the Kanto region.

 

In Japan, where rice has been considered a sanctuary item in agricultural policy, domestically grown rice has practically been the only type of rice made available to consumers. But a government policy of reducing the amount of land devoted to rice cultivation, which had lasted for about 50 years until 2017, and that of shifting to the production of rice for animal feed had an impact [on the domestic rice market.] The supply of domestically produced rice has dropped by 11% to 7.3 million tons annually over the past five years, and the market price of domestic rice rose for a third consecutive year. Furthermore, the current retail price is roughly 10% higher than the previous year, making Japanese people less inclined to eat rice.

 

Seiyu thought it “needed products in the lower price range” and negotiated with trading house Sumitomo Corp. and rice wholesaler Yamatane. “There were no longer any domestic rice brands that is priced at 300 yen or less per kilogram. But an Australian variety could satisfy Seiyu’s requirements,” says Yamatane President Motohiro Yamazaki. Australia boasts 450 million hectares of farmland, some 90 times that of Japan. Also, Australian rice has a competitive edge when it comes to price. Australia has been capitalizing on the Japanese government’s bids for imported rice since autumn 2017, allowing Australian rice to continuous arrive at Yokohama Port on container ships.

 

Foreign rice growers are viewing the situation as an opportunity. In early April, the Australian Embassy in Japan invited rice distributors.  Australian Ambassador to Japan Richard Court told them, “Japanese farmer Jo Takasuka was the first to grow Australian rice on borrowed farmland in Victoria State in 1906.” The ambassador also explained that Australian rice originated from the Koshihikari variety and that they taste similar. (Abridged)

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