• Kyodo

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Japan called Monday for substantial changes in a drafted plan for liberalizing agriculture at a World Trade Organization meeting in Geneva, trade officials said.

Japan, a major importer of farm products, said the plan lacks balance. It also said it cannot accept the draft in its entirety and demanded that changes be made, including to the formula for tariff cuts, the officials said.

The plan was proposed earlier this month by WTO farm negotiations chief Stuart Harbinson to provide a framework for agricultural trade negotiations.

Major exporters of farm products, including the United States, also expressed frustration over the draft, saying it is not ambitious enough to liberalize farm trade, the officials added.

Harbinson is expected to draw up a second proposal by mid-March so that a framework agreement can be reached by the end of March as planned.

The controversial draft presented March 12 features a minimum of 25 percent to 45 percent and an average of 40 percent to 60 percent in cuts in all farm tariffs over five years, an increase in import quotas to 10 percent of consumption, a 60 percent reduction in trade-distorting domestic subsidies and a phaseout of export subsidies within nine years.

It could deal a blow to Japan’s rice farmers, who are protected by a 490 percent tariff, as the duty may be subject to the proposed 45 percent minimum cut.

Japan also said the draft does not take into account Tokyo’s argument that agriculture contributes to conserving the landscape, protecting the natural environment and preventing natural disasters such as floods and soil erosion, according to the officials.

The WTO farm trade negotiations will continue until Friday. After all the members express their views on the draft, the negotiations will continue in separate meetings and focus on three main issues — market access, including tariffs, export subsidies, and domestic subsidies.

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