Japan will invoke a temporary emergency import curb today on three agricultural products, mainly from China, marking the first time Japan has invoked such measures under the ordinary safeguard mechanism of the World Trade Organization.

The WTO mechanism is designed to slow imports to allow a specific domestic industry to adjust to heightened competition from foreign suppliers. The import curbs will remain in place for up to 200 days through Nov. 8. The measure allows Japan to impose higher tariffs on imports of stone leeks, shiitake mushrooms and rushes used in tatami mats, once their import quantity surpasses the average amount logged between 1997 and 1999.

Japan will otherwise continue charging the existing tariffs on imports up to the 1997-1999 volumes.

For stone leeks, a tariff of 256 percent, up from 3 percent, will be imposed when imports exceed 5,383 tons. For shiitake mushrooms, a 266 percent tariff, up from 4.3 percent, will be imposed on imports over 8,003 tons. For rushes, a tariff of 106 percent, up from 6 percent, will be charged when imports exceed 7,949 tons.

Imports of stone leeks increased 25-fold to 37,375 tons in 2000 from 1996, while those of shiitake mushrooms jumped about 70 percent to 42,057 tons. Imports of rush products almost doubled to 20.3 million mats. Around 98 percent of imported stone leeks and 99 percent of shiitake mushrooms and rush products come to Japan from China.

China has voiced its disapproval of Japan’s decision. Vice trade minister An Min said: “The imposition of the measures will have grave consequences.” He emphasized that China reserves the right to impose retaliatory measures. Japan plans to continue bilateral discussions with China to seek a solution to the issue, a Japanese government official said

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