The Cabinet decided on Tuesday to impose emergency import curbs on three agricultural products, starting Monday.

China is set to be worst affected by the curbs as it is a major exporter of the three products.

Tariffs on stone leek imports will jump from 3 percent to 256 percent when they exceed 5,383 tons. Shiitake will be taxed at 266 percent, up from 4.3 percent, on imports over 8,003 tons. Tariffs on rushes — the straw used in tatami — will rise to 106 percent, up from 6 percent, when imports exceed 7,949 tons.

The thresholds were determined by taking the average of annual import volumes reached between 1997 and 1999.

The higher duties are being set to compensate for the difference between domestic wholesale prices and import prices.

The import curb will be in effect for up to 200 days through Nov. 8. Under World Trade Organization rules, the government can impose a temporary curb even before the conclusion of a study of the imports’ effects on the domestic market if it decides there is an emergency.

Monday will mark the first time Japan has invoked import curbs under the WTO ordinary safeguard mechanism, which is designed to slow imports to allow a specific industry to adjust to heightened competition from foreign suppliers.

Imports of stone leeks increased 25-fold to 37,375 tons in 2000 from 1996, while shiitake imports jumped about 70 percent to 42,057 tons. Imports of rush products almost doubled to 20.3 million mats.

Yoshio Yatsu, minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, called for support for the government’s decision.

“Massive imports of vegetables have resulted in sharp falls in prices, and Japanese producers are losing their spirit,” he said.

ut he and other Cabinet ministers said they still want to continue talks with Beijing to resolve a dispute over Japan’s decision to use the emergency import curbs.

“Communication with China is important, so we are ready to continue and step up negotiations,” Yatsu said.

Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa cautioned domestic producers against relying on the government and seeking import restrictions.

“It becomes a kind of habit once we do it,” Miyazawa said, apparently referring to increasing pressure by industry groups and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on the government to take similar actions on other products, such as towels, neckties and other textiles.

“The government should not end up giving the impression that it is ready to take a lenient attitude” whenever it confronts similar demands from domestic industrial sectors subjected to import upsurges, he said.

But Industry, Economy and Trade Minister Takeo Hiranuma said he doesn’t expect such demands to flood in.

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