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Japanese rice blockade.

Japanese Rice Blockade

The prospect of selling rice to Japan has kept Arkansas farmers on an emotional roller coaster for a decade.

The rice industry has waged a public relations war in Japan since the U.S. government's rejection of two petitions charging the Japanese with antitrust violations. At the same time, it has given Japanese visitors VIP treatment while guarding its secrets against what are considered questionable motives.

"We have been very careful about what we show them," says Marvin Baden of Producers' Rice Mill. "We feel they are trying to build a case against American rice farmers."

When the push first began, industry members knew it would be a long, uphill struggle; yet they were cautiously optimistic. But optimism has fluctuated with political and economic changes in both countries.

"One of them will give us some hope," says Rice Council President Charlie Hammans. "Somebody else will turn around and dash our hopes."

Japanese actions at home indicate rice farmers' suspicions about their motives are on target. The powerful Japanese farmers' union has mounted a smear campaign, claiming that American rice is impregnated with deadly chemicals. It also has threatened to cut off purchase of American wheat if the United States keeps pushing for an open-door policy.

Recently, the Japanese prime minister stated flatly, "Japan will never buy American rice."

The 10 Percent Solution

American farmers say they only want the same marketing freedom in Japan that the Japanese have in the United States for industrial goods. They'll be satisfied if 10 percent of the Japanese rice market is opened to all foreign imports - not just the United States'.

"All we're asking is to get into their country like they've gotten into ours," Baden says.

Knowing Japan benefits from a U.S. open-door policy while not allowing Americans a similar policy angers farmers.

"What made me mad is the $50 billion trade deficit with them," says Hammans.

Farmers also are angry with the U.S. government. Many would have preferred forcing Japan to open up or accept economic sanctions over the government's decision to negotiate rather than chance a trade war.

"I feel that our government has not stood behind us 100 percent," says Lonoke County rice farmer John Tull. "They have not gone the last mile for us.

"I just get upset that we continue to support the Japanese and their exports, and they won't buy our rice," he adds.

With U.S. annual production at $1.2 billion and 40 percent of that exported, the stakes are high.

Too Small To Matter?

A major frustration is that the rice industry is not of major importance to the government. Tull says it is "small in numbers and money." Farmers are concerned that the rice issue will be dropped in return for other trade concessions.

The rice issue is prominent now, Tull says, only because Secretary of Agriculture Clayton Yeutter is using it as "the most glaring example" of agricultural trade inequities throughout the world.

"Yeutter has brought it to the Japanese attention both publicly and by letter," says Tull. "He is acting tougher - more like he will act to protect the American rice farmer."

Talks are taking place at the eight round of the General Agreement for Trade and Tariffs, which began in 1988 with its focus on agriculture and ends in Geneva next month with or without an agreement on rice.

Tull doesn't expect an agreement. "The only way Japan would allow our rice into that country is if we demand some sanctions," he says.

If an agreement is not reached, the rice industry is again likely to file an unfair-trade complaint, and a trade war will again be possible.

PHOTO : PROMISES, PROMISES: Arkansas' rice farmers say they've been on an emotional roller coaster trying to sell rice to a country that can't seem to make up its mind whether it wants their product or not.
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Title Annotation:Arkansas rice farmers locked out of the Japanese market
Author:Hunter, Renee
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Oct 22, 1990
Previous Article:Recession revisited.
Next Article:Wrapping up loose ends.

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