• Kyodo

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Australia’s trade and agriculture ministers have written to their Japanese counterparts to urge them to waive an anticipated 11.5 percent increase in tariffs on imported beef, the Australian Financial Review reported Thursday.

The tariff hike could cost the drought-plagued Australian cattle industry millions of dollars, the newspaper said.

Under a World Trade Organization agreement, Japan could introduce legislation next week to increase its tariff from 38.5 percent to 50 percent between August and April 2004, the paper reported.

The agreement allows Japan to curb beef imports if there is an increase of more than 17 percent in a three-month period compared with the same period the previous year.

Figures released by Meat and Livestock Australia last week show that Australia’s beef exports to Japan have only now recovered after the detection of mad cow disease in Japanese cattle in September 2001.

Consumers grew wary of beef after the outbreak and Australian beef exports to Japan plummeted by 40 percent. The Australian government spent 5 million Australian dollars (350 million yen) last year on an advertising campaign to persuade Japanese consumers that Aussie beef is safe.

The industry’s recovery has meant Australia has reached the 17 percent cap, the Financial Review said.

The Australian government has launched a lobbying effort to persuade the Japanese government not to increase the tariff, which it believes is compulsory under the WTO agreement, but which Australian officials believe is optional, the newspaper reported. Japan is Australia’s biggest beef export market.

In a letter to Takeo Hiranuma, international trade and industry minister, Trade Minister Mark Vaile said, “The application of the safeguard measure was not warranted and will hurt both beef-exporting nations, such as Australia, and the recovery of the beef market in Japan.”

Vaile is scheduled to visit Japan next month.

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