EU official expected to seek concessions on pork

The top agricultural official of the European Union will visit Japan early next month amid rising tensions over Tokyo’s “safeguard” emergency restrictions on pork imports, government officials said Feb. 25.

The officials, requesting that they not be named, said that Franz Fischler, the European commissioner for agriculture, will be here for six days starting March 6 for Foodex Japan ’97, an international food exposition to be held in Chiba Prefecture. Although the primary objective of the visit is the food show, Fischler is expected to press Japanese government and political leaders for concessions on the pork dispute, which has emerged as one of few irritants in otherwise calm bilateral economic relations.

In addition to his Japanese counterpart, Takao Fujimoto, and other government officials, Fischler plans to meet with members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party who have a strong influence in farming policy. Slated to meet with Fischler are Taku Yamasaki, chairman of the LDP’s policy council, and members of the council’s agricultural section, the government officials said. The section is widely regarded as the farm lobby’s bastion in the party.

The pork dispute has been simmering since fall 1995 when Tokyo imposed emergency restrictions, commonly known as a safeguard, on pork imports to protect the weak domestic industry amid a sharp increase from overseas. Although the restrictions were lifted at the end of last March, they were reimposed in July as imports resumed their sharp increase during the April-June period.