Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has declared a public calamity to protect rice exports after the country’s top rice buyer warned it could wipe out some of its own food market.
The warning came as Japanese rice traders told Reuters they were not expecting to see any sales on their shelves again, but they were worried about the impact of the tsunami.
“If you see a lot of rice selling in supermarkets, then it could have a big impact,” said Mitsuru Suga, a rice trader at a wholesale rice market in northern Japan.
“People might stop buying rice from us and we might not be able to sell the rice.”
The Japanese government on Thursday called for a halt to all rice exports to North Korea until the country can establish a system to ensure its rice market is not wiped out.
The country’s rice sector is one of the largest in the world, accounting for about 7 percent of Japan’s $100 billion-a-year economy.
Abe has said he wants Japan to import more rice, but he has so far resisted calls to do so.
“I want to keep rice on the table.
I want to be able not to buy rice in the future,” he told a television interview in late March.
“But I don’t want to buy the rice right now.”
Abe’s comments on rice came after he called for the United States to stop buying North Korean grain for the first time in two decades.
In response, North Korea’s ambassador to Japan said it was “not realistic” to continue buying North Korea grain, Reuters reported.
The ambassador said that in addition to North Korean rice, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Program, and the European Union were also not going to buy North Korean grains.
The Japanese rice trade is one part of a global trade deficit, which accounts for more than a third of Japan $1 trillion-a,2 trillion trade deficit with North Korea.
The United States is Japan’s largest trading partner, but it has had to cut its ties with Tokyo in recent years.
The latest round of talks between Abe and Kim Jong Un, North Korean leader, was aimed at ending the crisis and the two leaders have talked frequently since the nuclear test on March 3.
Kim, who has threatened to use nuclear weapons against Japan, said in April that North Korea was ready to restart the nuclear program.
Japan, North and South Korea are currently in talks on the possibility of restarting talks.
The talks were set to continue this week, but tensions have been rising on the sidelines.
In Tokyo, a group of protesters called on the Japanese government to immediately halt its trade ties with North and launch a joint trade embargo on the North Korean regime.
The group of more than 1,000 protesters said Japan’s trade with the North was a violation of international law, Reuters reports.