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Japan’s imports of food products in 2000 rose 3.9 percent from the previous year to $46.05 billion, marking the second consecutive year of increase, data from the Japan External Trade Organization showed Saturday.

The increase stemmed largely from increased imports of seafood, the largest category in Japan’s food purchases from abroad, as well as meat.

Imports in the two categories increased by 6.1 percent to $15.4 billion and 10.4 percent to $8.8 billion, respectively.

Imports of vegetables reached $3.1 billion, up 0.3 percent, a modest rise compared with the 6.9 percent surge in 1999, JETRO said. The semigovernmental body compiled the statistics based on trade data from the Finance Ministry.

The United States was the top supplier of food products to Japan, with shipments worth $12.3 billion, up $400 million from the year before, followed by China with $6 billion, up $600 million.

Imports from Australia reached $3.2 billion, up $200 million, while those from Canada reached $2.5 billion, up $100 million.

Imports of frozen vegetables fell, but those of fresh and cold-storage vegetables increased by 6.2 percent to 920,000 tons, hitting a record high for the third straight year.

Imports of shiitake mushrooms, almost all of which came from China, rose 33 percent to 42,057 tons, worth $93.65 million, up 15.3 percent.

Imports of leeks from China increased 1.4-fold compared with the previous year.

Last week, the government invoked temporary import curbs on leeks, shiitake and tatami straw to protect domestic farmers from the sharp increases in cheap imports.

JETRO researchers said imports of vegetables increased not only from China but also from South Korea and Southeast Asia. Imports of tomatoes from South Korea jumped 63 percent from the previous year to account for 87 percent of Japan’s tomato imports.

According to importers, major Japanese trading houses have launched develop-and-import projects for asparagus and okra in countries such as Thailand and Vietnam.

Imports of those two items will sharply increase in one to two years, they said.

JETRO statistics showed that imports of tuna and bonito grew by 8.7 percent due mainly to increased imports of tuna from South Korea.

Processed eel imports surged 25.7 percent because of increased shipments from China and Taiwan.

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