The government will increase the tariff on beef to 50 percent from 38.5 percent if imports continue to rise, agriculture minister Yoshiyuki Kamei said Tuesday.

“The government has no room to act at its own discretion,” Kamei said in reference to a statutory safeguard calling for a beef tariff increase when imports grow more than 17 percent year-on-year on a quarterly basis.

Beef imports surged in the April-June quarter in reaction to a plunge in the same period last year when Japanese consumers shied away from beef due to mad cow disease fears.

The increased beef tariffs, based on a 1993 agreement in global trade talks on agriculture, are expected to take effect in August, depending on official import data.

Japanese cattle breeders want the government to raise the tariff, but the United States, Australia and Japanese beef consumers, including restaurants, oppose it.

The U.S. and Australia are major beef exporters.

Japan Food Service Association officials decried the prospective tariff increase during a meeting Tuesday with senior farm ministry officials, including Kamei.

Shuji Abe, vice chairman of the association, said there are “special circumstances” behind the recent surge in beef imports, namely a turnaround after the decline in consumption following mad cow fears. The state should take this into account and not increase tariffs, he said.

Abe is president of Yoshinoya D&C Co., operator of a fast-food chain serving bowls of beef on rice. Naoto Kitamura, senior vice farm minister, responded that the government must “comply with the rules” and will be forced to increase the tariffs.

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