Eight Cabinet ministers on Friday confirmed a policy of invoking a temporary emergency import curb on three agricultural products, mostly from China, government officials said.

The ministers who confirmed the action against surging imports of stone leeks, shiitake and rushes used in tatami mats include Yoshio Yatsu, minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, and Takeo Hiranuma, minister of economy, trade and industry.

The three ministers reached a basic agreement last Friday to impose a temporary emergency import curb on the three agricultural products under the rules of the World Trade Organization.

The government earlier confirmed that imports of the products have dealt a severe blow to Japanese farmers by driving down prices.

Yatsu, Miyazawa and Hiranuma are expected to meet again next week to discuss new tariff rates on the three products. With the approval of the Cabinet, the tariffs on the three products are expected to be raised as early as this month.

Once imposed, the curb, while provisional, will be the first imposed by Japan under the WTO’s ordinary safeguard mechanism, designed to slow imports to allow a specific industry to adjust to heightened competition from foreign suppliers.

There remains a slight possibility that the invocation will be avoided if China suggests a viable compromise.

At Friday’s meeting, the eight ministers agreed to continue to ask China for self-imposed export restraints through bilateral talks.

Under the planned restrictions, Tokyo will raise tariff duties to compensate for the difference between domestic wholesale prices and import prices for a maximum of 200 days.

Meanwhile, a Finance Ministry panel the same day failed to reach consensus on whether Japan should invoke import curbs on the three products.

While noting that safeguards are necessary to protect domestic farmers, the report compiled by the ministry’s panel on tariffs questioned whether the damage to farmers has reached a level that warrants emergency measures.

The report refrained from making a clear-cut proposal, saying only that the government should deal with the issue in line with World Trade Organization rules.

Japan’s vegetable imports have soared in recent years. In 2000, imports of fresh vegetables jumped 50 percent from 1996 levels. Of these, imports of stone leeks increased roughly 24-fold, while those of shiitake soared 70 percent and rush products were up 80 percent.

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