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Restaurateurs, beef and wine vendors hail Australia tariffs deal

JIJI

Japanese restaurant operators, butchers and wine merchants are welcoming the economic partnership agreement signed with Australia on Tuesday, predicting lower prices for imported foodstuffs such as beef and booze.

“We may use more Australian beef if tariffs fall,” said an official at Zensho Holdings Co., which operates the Sukiya “gyudon” beef-dish chain.

Under the bilateral trade deal signed Tuesday, Japan will gradually lower its 38.5 percent tariff on imported beef.

But the Zensho official said prices also depend on currency fluctuations, so it’s too early to predict cheaper dishes at Sukiya outlets.

Makoto Ueda, president of supermarket operator Maruetsu Inc., said Australian beef will make it easier to expand the store’s range of low-priced beef products.

“Older people are suffering from falling incomes as pensions have been reduced. We will cater to such people,” Ueda said.

Japan will eliminate its tariffs on Australian wine, currently ¥50 to ¥100 per 750-ml bottle, over seven years.

It won’t mean a major change for many higher-end bottles, but those that retail for less than ¥1,000 could see a significant benefit, said Kunio Naito, who runs Cave de Relax, a wine shop in the Toranomon business district in central Tokyo.

Meanwhile, food maker Meiji Co. is concerned about stiffer competition for the domestic dairy industry. The agreement includes the introduction of duty-free import quotas for Australian cheese.

“If floods of (cheaper cheese) imports make it difficult for domestic dairy producers to continue, the negative effects could spread to our procurement of milk and other products,” a Meiji official said.

The automobile industry welcomed the agreement, which includes a provision for Australia to eliminate tariffs on auto parts and assembled vehicles. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry estimates that Japanese automakers stand to enjoy ¥43.6 billion in lower costs.

Australia imported 350,000 vehicles from Japan last year, the world’s second-largest importer, after the United States.

Currently, Japanese makers control more than half of the Australian auto market, but they are facing stiffer competition from the United States and South Korea, both of which have already signed bilateral free trade agreements with Australia.