Staff writer

Japan will dispatch senior government officials to the United States, the European Union, Australia, Thailand and the World Trade Organization’s headquarters in Geneva to explain and seek understanding for its decision to introduce a “tariffication” scheme for rice imports, government officials said Friday.

Hideaki Kumazawa, a vice agricultural minister for international affairs, and Shotaro Oshima, the director general of the Foreign Ministry’s economic affairs bureau, will visit Washington early next week, the officials said, requesting anonymity.

The two Japanese officials will meet with top officials of the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office and the Agricultural Department — possibly including Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman and and U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, the officials said.

After visiting Washington, Kumazawa will fly to Brussels for talks with top trade officials of the European Commission, the executive arm of the 15-nation EU, the officials said.

Other senior Japanese government officials will also be sent to other major agricultural exporters, including Australia and Thailand, next week.

The officials said that Masanori Hayashi, director general of international affairs at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, will visit Geneva next week for talks with senior WTO officials.

On Friday, the government formally approved a decision to impose tariffs of about 351 yen per kg on imported rice, beginning in April, to replace the current import quota system. The import duty will be lowered to 341 yen per kg from fiscal 2000.

The tariff system was formally approved at a meeting of the concerned Cabinet ministers held Friday evening at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence. “The government decided to start procedures for tariffication from next April as it is in the best interests of the nation,” Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi said in a statement.

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