TOKYO — Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita has rejected an appeal from President Reagan to announce a plan in early December to open Japan's rice market to imports, Chief Cabinet Secretary Keizo Obuchi revealed Thursday.
Obuchi's comment came after Yasuo Goto, vice minister of agriculture, disclosed that Reagan had sent a personal letter to Takeshita on the ultra-sensitive issue Nov. 18.
It was the first time an American president had directly urged Japan to open its rice market.
Obuchi, who is in charge of coordinating Cabinet activities, told reporters that Takeshita sent a reply informing Reagan that he opposed taking up only Japan's rice issue at a General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs meeting in Montreal Dec. 5-8. The meeting will conduct an interim review of the Uruguay Round of multinational negotiations.
Japan would be willing to put its rice policy on the bargaining table, Takeshita told Reagan, only when measures by other nations to open their agricultural markets are discussed simultaneously, Obuchi said.
As "the world's most dynamic export-based economic power, Japan, I believe, should propose an opening of its rice market at Montreal," Reagan wrote.
Although Reagan did not demand an immediate opening, he was quoted as telling Takeshita that "significant and recognizable developments in the reform of Japanese agricultural policy must be shown" to lead the Uruguay Round to success.
Goto told reporters that Japan's domestic political circumstances made it impossible to propose an opening of its rice market now. Farm cooperatives, which exercise major influence over the ruling conservatives, as well as many consumer groups claiming that Japan must protect its self-sufficiency in rice for the sake of "food security," are opposed to lifting the virtual ban on rice imports.
The new threat of a clash between the two nations over the rice issue came as a nine-company consortium including Schal Associates Inc. of Chicago won a $149.6-million contract to build a six-story international conference hall and a 32-story hotel in Yokohama as part of a city-sponsored development project. The successful bid marked the first time an American firm has secured a construction contract in Japan since the United States and Japan reached an agreement in March and implemented it in May to allow U.S. companies to bid on public works projects.
Eight consortiums, four of which included one U.S. firm each, participated in the bidding. Toda Construction served as the lead firm for the group that included Schal. The value of Schal's part of the contract was not disclosed.
Three of the losing consortiums included Parsons Constructors Inc. of Pasadena and Turner Construction Co. and Tishman Realty & Construction Co., both of New York.