THAI EXPORTERS HOPE JAPAN TURNS TO THEM TO SUPPLY RICE

THAI EXPORTERS HOPE JAPAN TURNS TO THEM TO SUPPLY RICE

Convenient transport and good relations between Thai and Japanese traders suggest most Japanese rice imports are likely to come from Thailand, Thai rice exporters said Wednesday.

But a Thai government official said that Japan will instead import from its major trading partners - such as the United States - in an effort to ease trade frictions.One Thai exporter said Japan imports about 10,000 metric tons of Thai broken rice each year, so good connections already exist. Japan has a virtual ban on rice imports, but buys some foreign product for use in manufactured articles such as rice crackers.

Delivery from Thailand is also cheaper and faster than from the United States, the exporters said.

One exporter said that Japanese imports will total 300,000 metric tons, comprising broken rice and Japanese-style rice. By comparison, Japanese newspapers have suggested a figure of 150,000 metric tons.

The trader said it was impossible that Japan would import by the end of

December, despite earlier reports indicating that was likely.

An expert at the Thai commerce ministry disagreed with the exporters, saying Japan's desire to avoid sanctions against its exports to major trading partners like the United States means it will buy from these countries.

"Japan has good purchasing power. Cheaper price is not a major concern," she said.

Japan's Food Agency has reportedly decided to import rice as an emergency step to make up for the country's poor rice harvest. An official decision is expected Thursday.

Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa also has talked of longer-term liberalization of rice imports in line with the Uruguay Round of talks under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

Traders said they don't know if Japanese demand will have any impact on local rice prices.