A senior U.S. government official warned Monday that trade liberalization in the Asia Pacific region will collapse if Japan refuses to join an early market-opening initiative on wood and fish products at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum that opens later this week in Malaysia.

All member economies except Japan have agreed to proceed with market liberalization in forestry and fishery products, two of the nine areas selected for such liberalization at last year’s APEC summit in Canada. “If Japan maintains its current position, it’s likely that EVSL (Early Voluntary Sectoral Liberalization in all the nine sectors) will in fact not be able to go forward,” the official said, asking not to be named. “This would send a very bad signal to the region that trade liberalization will be somehow impaired at this very critical time when we need trade more than ever,” the official warned.

Pointing to serious reductions in Japan’s import of wood and fish products in the past year, the official urged Tokyo to eliminate tariffs as quickly as possible to support exports from Southeast Asia.

The official expressed hope that after APEC has reached agreement on the EVSL package as a whole, detailed talks will be held on substantial tariff cuts within in the framework of the World Trade Organization, as the Japanese government has insisted.

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