Tokyo is working to persuade Beijing to accept more Japanese rice in hopes of giving domestic farmers greater access to a market hungry for high-quality imports.Mr. Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, made a pitch on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation last month. “I want Chinese to eat as much Japanese rice as possible,” Nikai told a Beijing official. And with Sino-Japanese relations showing signs of warming, China too has agreed to send an inspector to Japan soon. “We want to review trade over the last 10 years and lay the groundwork” for increased exports, the official said. It was a decade ago that Beijing partly reopened its doors to Japanese rice when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had visited China on his first official overseas trip way back in the autumn of 2006.
Mr. Nikai’s visit to Beijing may also reflect Abe’s political approach that has been to phase out the subsidy which pays farmers to scale back rice planting, to end entirely in 2018. With domestic consumption shrinking to around 80,000 Metric Tonnes (MT) each year, oversupply and falling prices could send farmers’ incomes plunging. Previous efforts to raise rice farmer’s income had been underwhelming, when Japan sent just 375 tons of rice to China last year. Beijing requires that imported rice be milled and fumigated at facilities certified by the Chinese government. But Japan has only one milling plant and two fumigation warehouses with this stamp of approval. Farmers have complained that the costs involved force them to jack up prices. Tokyo began discreet talks with Beijing in November and this time round they want the effort to succeed at any cost. A lower house elections to be held before the end of next year, make Japan’s roughly 1 million rice-farming households, a fertile ground for votes.