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Japan urged China on Tuesday to retract a decision to slap special tariffs on cars, mobile phones and air conditioners imported from Japan in retaliation for emergency curbs imposed by Japan on Chinese farm imports.

In a complaint lodged with China’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation, the Japanese Embassy in Beijing said the move “is unproductive and will not resolve the issue” and added that it is regrettable that China made the announcement without advance notice to Tokyo.

China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency said late Monday that China will impose special duties on cars, mobile phones and air conditioners made in Japan.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Takeo Hiranuma said he does not perceive as serious the China decision to retaliate against recent Japanese import curbs, pointing out that exports of the three items are made only in small quantities.

“The measure is not one to cause serious damage,” Hiranuma said. “It is not at the level of retaliation China had previously slapped against South Korea” in a similar trade row.

He called on China to continue dialogue to resolve the fray.

Tokyo currently has no intention of meeting the Chinese demand that it scrap the “safeguard” curbs on stone leeks, shiitake mushrooms and tatami rushes, which mostly come from China, he said. The curbs were invoked April 23 on a 200-day temporary basis under rules set by the World Trade Organization.

Japan has yet to determine whether to upgrade the safeguard measures into a full action, he said.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said he wants to solve the fresh trade fray with China through “calm and constructive” negotiations.

“It is appropriate for us to listen to their arguments carefully and hold talks to improve the situation in a calm and constructive manner,” Koizumi told reporters. “We had better not take the types of steps that could rock the boat.”

Beijing’s action, even if taken, is not expected to have a major negative affect on the total value of Japanese exports to China, since auto exports in fiscal 2000 consisted of 35,000 units. They accounted for only 68.4 billion yen out of 3.5 trillion yen in Japan’s annual exports.

Cellphone exports are also limited because China uses European technological specifications.

Similarly, exports of air conditioners are relatively few as Japanese electrical appliance makers have moved a substantial part of air conditioner production to China since the late 1980s.

But Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tsutomu Takebe expressed dissatisfaction over China’s decision, saying, “The move is extremely regrettable.”

Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said at a news conference: “At the moment, we are trying to confirm the details (of Beijing’s plans). We will seek China’s constructive response to the issue based on WTO-related agreements, so that the matter will be resolved.”

Finance Minister Masajuro Shiokawa expressed regret and called on both sides to act rationally. “I think it is undesirable,” Shiokawa told a regular news conference.

He also said both sides need to “deal with the issue calmly” and that they must “promote dialogue” because there is a danger of escalation.

Officials at some Japanese companies are concerned that China’s decision could damage future business opportunities in the country, where the markets for cars and cellular phones are expanding rapidly.

But one industry official said, “Since we have not exported those goods (subject to the planned Chinese tariffs) from Japan to China, they will not impact our business directly.”

However, an official at Mitsubishi Electric Corp. said some of the company’s air conditioners for corporate use may be subject to the tariffs.

“We cannot assess the degree of the impact (of the Chinese tariffs) on our business, because we don’t have information on the details of the Chinese measures, such as the rate of tariffs,” the official said.

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