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First Foreign Rice, From Australia, Goes on Sale in Japan

September 7, 1995

TOKYO (AP) _ Not too sticky, not too sweet, consumers said. It might just sell.

A trade accord has ended Japan’s ban on foreign rice, and Australian rice on Thursday became the first foreign rice to be sold in Japanese supermarkets under the new rules.

Japan’s largest supermarket chain, Daiei, began offering 15 tons of Australian rice at its 62 outlets around Tokyo and Osaka. Other supermarket chains are to follow suit.

Curious shoppers stopped to check out the bags decorated with a smiling cartoon kangaroo and try a sample. Australian growers developed a special brand to appeal to Japanese tastes, and stores were offering it at a discount compared to domestic brands _ at least initially.

``It has a nice sweetness and stickiness,″ said shopper Setsuko Tsuchiya. ``I like Japanese rice, but it’s nice to be able to find a new kind which is good but also cheap.″

At Daiei, an 11-pound bag of the Australian rice sold for $22 and a 4 1/2-pound bag for $9, up to 30 percent cheaper than its Japanese competition.

``Born in Japan, grown in Australia,″ said one banner over the shelf.

For years, Japan protected domestic rice growers, insisting on self-sufficiency in its staple food. But a disastrous harvest in 1993 forced Japan to import 2 million tons of rice from the United States, Australia, China and Thailand.

While American and Australian rice sold well, the Thai rice was so unpopular that officials were forced to give away much of it either as livestock feed or emergency aid to impoverished North Korea.

Japanese prefer short-grained, sticky rice rather than the long-grained loose Thai variety, which also has a smell that many Japanese find unpleasant.

Australia, with its opposite seasons, hopes to ship its new harvest when there is no domestic competition. Newly harvested rice is very popular in Japan, and sells for premium prices.

An accord reached under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade called for Japan to import about 400,000 tons of foreign rice in the current fiscal year, which ends next March. Japan’s annual quota will increase to 800,000 tons by 2000.

In late July, Japan bought 2,800 tons of foreign rice, including about 1,600 tons from the United States, 210 tons from China and 870 tons from Australia.

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