The Cabinet on Tuesday approved a plan to invoke temporary import curbs on three agricultural products, mainly from China, to protect domestic farmers from a recent surge in imports.

Import restrictions will be issued on stone leeks, fresh shiitake and tatami straw for 200 days beginning April 23.

When imports of the three products exceed the average import quantities over the past three years, the tariffs will rise exponentially to fill the price gap between expensive domestic produce and economical imported products.

If imports of stone leeks exceed 5,383 tons after April 23, the tariff will be raised from 3 percent to 256 percent, or 225 yen per kilogram.

For fresh shiitake, the tariff will be raised from 4.3 percent to 266 percent, or 635 yen per kilogram, if imports exceed 8,003 tons.

If imports of tatami straw exceed 7,949 tons, the tariff of 6 percent will increase to 106 percent, or 306 yen per kilogram, according to the Agriculture Ministry.

If imports of the three items grow at the same rate as last year, the higher tariffs will likely be imposed in July for stone leeks, in October for shiitake and in August for straw.

The Cabinet is expected to officially approve legal procedures for the steps next week, Trade Minister Takeo Hiranuma said.

The curbs were invoked to protect domestic producers from low-priced imports.

The World Trade Organization allows curbs to be invoked when surging imports severely hurt domestic producers and delayed action would seriously affect domestic industry.

Imports of the three products have soared in recent years. Imports of stone leeks increased roughly 24-fold in 2000 to 37,375 tons, shiitake jumped about 70 percent to 42,057 tons and tatami rush almost doubled to 20.3 million mats.

Around 98 percent of imported stone leeks and 99 percent of shiitake and tatami rush come from China.

Hiranuma said the government will hold bilateral talks with China, a procedure under WTO rules, although China is not yet a member of the international trade watchdog.

The import restriction measures effectively target Chinese imports since nearly all imports of the three products come from China.

Prior to the Cabinet meeting, Hiranuma, Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa and Agriculture Minister Yoshio Atsu agreed on the details of the curbs.

While the government will proceed in invoking the curbs, it is also hopeful that Tokyo and Beijing can resolve the issue through negotiations, Hiranuma said.

Toshikatsu Matsuoka, senior vice minister for agriculture, is scheduled to visit China this week to explain Japan’s stance on the import curbs. If necessary, Agriculture Minister Yoshio Yatsu may also visit China for talks.

If China suggests a viable compromise, such as imposing export restraints, there is a slight possibility the invocation will be avoided.

Japan and China may also continue talks until the higher tariffs are actually imposed.

Since January 1995, when the WTO was inaugurated, 31 cases of safeguard measures have been taken, including 18 temporary measures, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

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