The European Union, in an apparent sign of its tougher trade policy, has informally notified Japan of its intention to take bilateral disputes over marine products, pork, and port transportation to the World Trade Organization, government sources in Tokyo said Jan. 16.The sources said the 15-nation EU will request bilateral talks on Japan’s pork imports as early as this month in accordance with Article 22 of the rules set by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, an international watchdog on commerce that was succeeded by the WTO on Jan. 1, 1995. Japan will be required to hold the bilateral talks under WTO rules within one month of the EU filing the request.The EU also plans to request separate bilateral talks for martime products. Also under Article 22, the talks would focus on Japan’s import quotas on maritime products like squid, horse mackerel and sardines within the next few months, the sources said.Regarding port transport, the U.S. also has threatened to impose sanctions against Japan, claiming that the Japanese practice of requiring “prior consultations” between shipping companies and labor unions of cargo handling companies to choose a handler is limiting the competition among cargo handlers and resulting in higher charges that foreign shipping firms must pay. The dispute over Japan’s pork imports has been simmering since the autumn of 1995 when Japan imposed emergency restrictions commonly known as “safeguards” on pork imports to protect its weak domestic pork industry from sharply rising imports.Although the import restrictions were lifted at the end of March last year, they were imposed again in July as imports of foreign pork resumed their sharp increase during the April-June period. The complicated Japanese pork-import system sets standard import prices. The difference between those benchmark prices and the actual prices at which foreign pork is imported is collected as an import duty. Once the safeguard import restrictions are applied, the standard prices for imported pork are raised.

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