• Kyodo

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China began blocking certain Japanese imports this week in a move widely regarded as retaliation for emergency tariffs Japan imposed on three Chinese exports on April 23.

Import inspection offices in Guangdong Province, China’s predominant trading center, are holding up a wide range of Japanese imports packed in wooden crates by refusing to issue paperwork certifying they have been properly fumigated. One official from China’s State Administration for Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine insisted the measure was impartial.

“It is the same for every country, aimed at keeping out harmful insects in the wood. This measure has nothing to do with Japanese safeguards against China,” he told Kyodo News.

But 180 Japanese-affiliated firms in Guangdong have petitioned Tokyo’s Consulate in Guangzhou to complain that only Japanese imports have been targeted, beginning the day after Japan imposed safeguard curbs on three agricultural products, the bulk of which come from China.

Importers in Guangdong say that to deal with the problem they have had to resort to repackaging consignments from wooden crates into plastic and some manufacturers who rely on Japanese components say they cannot afford to continue.

Japan announced last Monday that it would impose emergency tariffs on stone leeks, shiitake mushrooms and tatami rushes, raising the rate from between 3 percent and 6 percent to between 106 percent for tatami rushes and 266 percent for shiitake mushrooms, once import volumes surpass averages logged between 1997 and 1999.

The move aims to bring prices in line with the domestically produced competition and to protect domestic industry from cheaper imports.

But Japan “did not follow procedures that would be considered WTO (World Trade Organization) compliant” in implementing the safeguards, one Western diplomat told Kyodo News.

China warned of possible retaliation the same day, charging the action “seriously violates WTO rules (and) will seriously harm Sino-Japanese trade relations,” the official news agency Xinhua quoted Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation Ministry spokeswoman Gao Yan as saying.

China’s subsequent quarantine measure, which has targeted Japanese shipments en route to Guangdong by land from Hong Kong, echoes similar tactics aimed at U.S. imports in the late 1990s when Chinese quarantine officials also blocked containers they said had not been properly fumigated.

Tokyo is also studying requests from domestic towel and necktie producers to impose tariffs that could hit Chinese manufacturers.

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