Japan may export rice to Sri Lanka: official

Audrey Azoulay

TOKYO, June 2, 2008 (AFP) - Japan is mulling a request from Sri Lanka to export up to 200,000 tonnes of its imported rice supplies to help Colombo ease acute food shortages, a Japanese foreign ministry official said Monday.

But Japan, Asia's biggest economy, is sitting on a rice mountain as it needs to import 770,000 tonnes every year to fulfil its obligations as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

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Imported rice, unpopular in Japan, often ends up in processed food or is kept until it deteriorates and then sold as livestock feed.

To sell these stocks outside its domestic market, however, Japan is required to obtain approval from the exporting countries.

"We are considering their request," said the official, who declined to be named.

"It is still unknown in what form we can provide foreign rice, for example, as grant in aid or by selling it at reasonable prices," the official said.

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Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda are scheduled to visit Rome this week to attend a high-level meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

"Although no contact between the two sides is scheduled, we don't rule out the possibility," the offi

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