• Kyodo

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Farm minister Yoshiyuki Kamei notified U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman on Thursday of Japan’s intention to impose emergency curbs on imported beef.

“I told (her) that Japan will implement the measure, based on law,” Kamei told reporters after his meeting with Veneman.

Veneman reiterated U.S. concerns over the planned beef import curbs.

“We strongly urged that they not be imposed,” Veneman said at a news conference after the meeting.

While stopping short of going into specifics, she hinted that the United States may initiate retaliatory action if Japan imposes the curbs.

“If indeed the safeguard is implemented, we will look at all our options,” Veneman said.

Under the law introduced based on World Trade Organization rules, Japan can automatically increase its beef tariff from 38.5 percent to 50 percent if there is a year-on-year increase of more than 17 percent in imported beef on a cumulative quarterly basis.

If official import data for the April-June quarter, to be released at the end of this month, indicate a need for beef import curbs, Japan plans to raise the tariff on Aug. 1.

Imported beef in the three months surged following a plunge in the same period last year, when consumers shied away from beef after mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, was discovered in Japan.

Veneman said the planned curbs do not amount to WTO-approved safeguard measures to protect domestic producers against a sudden surge in beef imports.

“This is an issue that came from a unique situation of a drop in consumer demand, which was temporary due to the BSE find,” she said.

A Japanese official said Veneman told Kamei the U.S. is considering lifting part of the bans imposed on Canadian cattle and beef products after it was learned May 20 that a cow in western Canada had tested positive for BSE.

Kamei voiced concerns that Canadian beef may be exported to Japan via the U.S., the official said.

Japan also imposed a ban on Canadian beef immediately after the BSE case surfaced in Canada.

Kamei asked the U.S. to include the origin of beef products in export inspection certifications to guarantee that they came from cattle born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S., the Japanese official said.

Kamei and Veneman agreed on the importance of the WTO ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico, in September for a successful conclusion of the new round of global trade talks by Jan. 1, 2005.

But they remained apart over how to liberalize agricultural trade.

Veneman urged Japan to substantially reduce tariffs on farm products and agricultural subsidies.

“When it comes to Japan, they have still very high tariff levels on a number of their products,” she said.

Kamei said it may be difficult to see progress in farm trade talks at the Cancun meeting if the U.S. and other agricultural product exporters stick to “excessive” demands and show no flexibility, the Japanese official said.

Kamei, who arrived in Washington on Thursday, was scheduled to meet U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick on Friday. He was to fly to Ottawa later in the day.