• Kyodo

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Japan and the United States failed Wednesday to narrow their differences on reducing tariffs on agricultural products in a new round of global trade talks.

Farm minister Tadamori Oshima held separate talks with Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

Emerging from the talks with Veneman, Oshima told reporters “a considerable gap” exists between the two countries.

In the new trade round, launched by the World Trade Organization in November 2001, major importers of farm products, like Japan, and exporters led by the U.S., are at loggerheads over proposals on how to cut agricultural tariffs.

Oshima reiterated Japan’s rejection of a U.S. proposal for a substantial uniform cut in tariffs on farm products, a Japanese official said.

The proposal would “deal a fatal blow to Japanese rice producers,” Oshima was quoted as saying at the meetings.

According to the Japanese official, Veneman urged Japan to agree to the proposal and Armitage also stressed that the plan is ideal.

It calls for putting a uniform 25 percent ceiling on all farm import tariffs. Under this formula, the higher the tariff, the bigger the reduction.

The Japanese proposal meanwhile first sets the lowest tariff reduction rate before determining an average tariff reduction rate for all items. This formula enables importing countries to maintain high tariffs on certain imports, including rice in Japan’s case.

The WTO has set a March 31 deadline for an accord on the framework of farm trade liberalization commitments by member states.

Oshima arrived in Washington on Tuesday to discuss the farm trade issue with senior U.S. officials ahead of an informal WTO ministerial meeting to be hosted by Japan in mid-February.

Veneman voiced concerns over the growing possibility of Japan launching emergency measures to curb beef imports as early as this summer, the Japanese official said.

Oshima, however, said Japan has to take the step because under Japanese law, the government must automatically impose import restrictions if the total amount of imported beef from April marks an increase of more than 17 percent from the corresponding period a year before, according to the official.

Japan’s beef imports are recovering from a sharp decline in the aftermath of the outbreak of mad cow disease in September 2001.

Oshima was scheduled to meet separately with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and Deputy Commerce Secretary Samuel Bodman on Thursday.

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