Towel imports investigation extended

The government has been unable to justify placing restrictions on towel imports from China and Vietnam but has decided to continue its probe into the situation anyway.

“We decided it is not, at the moment, a situation in which we can invoke safeguard curbs, given that import growth is slowing,” Takeo Hiranuma, minister of economy, trade and industry, said Tuesday. “On the other hand, we need to monitor the situation and data carefully.

“So we intend to call for extending the probe.”

It will be the third extension of the probe, originally launched for a period of six months in April 2001. The current deadline — Oct. 15 — will now be abandoned in favor of April 15, the trade ministry said.

According to the latest trade data, year-on-year imports of towel products rose 3.1 percent in the year to August. Imports had soared 16.5 percent in 1999, 15.4 percent in 2000 and 6.3 percent in 2001.

Imports from China, accounting for about 80 percent of the total, posted a year-on-year jump of 17.6 percent in July, ahead of a 13.3 percent surge in August, and will thus need to be monitored further, Hiranuma said.

The ministry is expected to seek approval for the delay during a meeting Wednesday of a trade subcommittee that operates under the Industrial Structure Council, which advises the trade minister.

METI was given the green light by the Liberal Democratic Party earlier in the day.

Under the World Trade Organization, a member government can curb imports of textiles from specific countries for a period of three years in order to “safeguard” domestic industries under threat, though certain conditions must be met.

A Chinese industry group said in a meeting last month with the Japan Towel Industrial Association that towel trade boomed in July and August due to a temporary demand surge linked to the Yomiuri Giants’ victory in this year’s Central League baseball title, according to METI.