• Kyodo

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Japan’s proposal to avoid setting a uniform cap on farm import tariffs drew fire from major agricultural exporters at a weeklong session of talks at the World Trade Organization that opened Monday.

Exporting countries have proposed a uniform cap of 25 percent on all farm import tariffs and called for drastic reductions in domestic and export subsidies. But Japan proposed that the WTO adopt a “Uruguay Round” method, combining minimum market access and average tariff cuts instead of a uniform cap.

Japan’s proposal, unveiled Thursday, pushes for average tariff cuts and leaves room for setting higher tariffs on different items.

New Zealand and other members of the Australia-led Cairns Group, which represents 18 farm exporting countries, criticized the Japanese position, saying countries with high tariffs should try harder to lower them.

Japan also called for a cut in “minimum access” import quotas of rice to 5 percent of domestic consumption, down from the current 7.2 percent. It also wants to maintain the overall framework of current domestic subsidies.

The United States and the Cairns Group have asked Japan to present specific targets for lowering tariffs, but Tokyo instead wants to focus on formulas for cutting tariffs.

Negotiators in the WTO-sponsored trade talks aim to produce numerical targets for their agricultural reform commitments by March 31.

No farm liberalization

The foreign, trade and farm ministers said Tuesday they will stand firm against agricultural market reform at ongoing global trade talks, in which farm product exporters are demanding more open markets.

“Our country will defend our positions, particularly over agriculture,” Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi told a news conference after reporting to the other ministers on the outcome of a recent informal World Trade Organization meeting she attended in Sydney.

“It is important that we pursue our interests strategically,” Kawaguchi said of an agreement earlier in the day with Takeo Hiranuma, minister of economy, trade and industry, and Tadamori Oshima, minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

Kawaguchi attended a ministerial meeting of 25 WTO members in Sydney on Friday, when an agreement was struck to work toward meeting specific sector-by-sector deadlines before concluding the Doha round, launched last November in the Qatar capital, as scheduled by Jan. 1, 2005.

The three ministers also agreed to enhance coordination among their ministries as the WTO negotiations on farm trade are expected to intensify by March, Hiranuma said at a separate news conference.

Japan’s proposal on Nov. 14 to avoid setting a uniform cap on farm import tariffs drew fire from leading exporting nations at a weeklong session of WTO trade talks that opened Monday in Geneva.

Under the three-year trade round, the 144 WTO members aim to produce numerical targets for their agricultural reform commitments by next March 31.

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