By Boyd Champness

AUSTRALIA, Uruguay, Argentina and the European Union have all protested to the World Trade Organisation following Japans decision to increase tariffs on rice imports.

Japans trade boss said he was “surprised” by angry Australian reaction to his countrys move to impose further tariffs on rice to block Australian exports and protect Japans politically sensitive rice industry.

Speaking on Channel 9s Business Sunday TV programme, the Japanese Minister for International Trade and Industry, Mr Kaoru Yosano, said he wished to express “profound regret” that his government could not obtain the understanding of the Australian Government on the merits of the tariff.

But despite his regrets, Mr Yosano, who was in Australia for bilateral trade talks, gave no indication that his country would backtrack on its decision to increase tariffs, regardless of the fact that a number of countries have taken their grievances to the WTO.

Japan has received international praise in recent years for reforming its ultra-tight rice market rules to allow above quota-imports.

But international growers are up in arms over Tokyos latest decision to slap a tariff of ¥351.17/kg (A$4.64/kg; £1.81/kg;) on above-quota shipments from April.

Surprisingly, the USA, which has made the largest inroads into the fiercely guarded Japanese rice market, has so far held off filing a complaint with the WTO.

Mr Yosano defended the tariff move during the interview. He said the difficult decision was made after a “nationwide discussion (reflecting) its high sensitivity in our country”.

He also said the level of tariff – estimated to be effectively 390% on prime rice – was set in accordance with WTO guidelines.