JAPAN COALITION TORPEDOES RESOLUTION BANNING RICE

JAPAN COALITION TORPEDOES RESOLUTION BANNING RICE

Parties in Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa's coalition have scrapped plans to pass a non-binding parliamentary resolution reaffirming Japan's ban on rice imports, party officials said.

Such a move, the party officials said, would have seriously curtailed Tokyo's room for maneuver in this week'sdelicate global trade negotiations.Japan's ban on foreign rice is likely to dominate the talks. Tokyo has so far refused to give in to a proposal that it replace its ban on rice with high tariffs.

Farm minister Eijiro Hata will travel to Geneva and Brussels this week to meet officials of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the European Community. GATT is the international body that governs trade throughout much of the world.

The parliamentary resolution to reaffirm the rice ban was submitted by the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party, long the beneficiary of the influential farm vote.

The LDP, in opposition for the first time in 38 years, cannot afford to alienate farm groups.

But all the parties of the Hosokawa coalition except the Socialists were inching towards a compromise on the rice issue, the officials said.

Two - the Japan Renewal Party, consisting of former Liberal Democrats, and Komeito, a Buddhist-backed centrist party - refused to put the resolution to a vote, as was to have happened Friday.

Yoshiro Mori, LDP secretary- general, criticized Mr. Hosokawa's coalition partners for failing to adopt a concerted stance.

"This exposes the lack of rationale in government policy," Mr. Mori told a news conference.

"They (the LDP) know that the Socialists and the other parties (in the coalition) are far apart on this issue," one coalition official said. "It's a ploy to attack our weak point."