• Kyodo

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Australian Prime Minister John Howard said Monday he will urge Japan not to increase its tariff on imported beef to 50 percent when he meets Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi this week.

“That’s obviously something that I will be raising with him, the increased tariff on the beef,” Howard told Sydney radio 2GB from the Philippines, where he began a weeklong tour of Asia.

Japan plans to raise the tariff by 11.5 percentage points from 38.5 percent to 50 percent Aug. 1.

Under a 1993 World Trade Organization safeguard, Japan can automatically increase its tariff if there is a year-on-year increase of more than 17 percent in imported beef on a cumulative quarterly basis.

Beef imports surged in the April-June quarter after plummeting in the same period last year following the detection of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, in Japanese cattle in September 2001, which turned consumers away from beef in general.

Agriculture minister Yoshiyuki Kamei has said the government has no room to act on its own discretion.

Although there is “resistance” in Japan to negotiating a free-trade agreement with Australia because of differences over agricultural market access, Howard said he expects to make progress on an economic framework between the two countries.

“My doctrine is what is in Australia’s interests I’ll go after, and it’s in Australia’s interests to keep a good trading relationship with Japan,” Howard said.

Following a decision by Howard and Koizumi in May 2002 to explore options for deeper economic links between Japan and Australia, the economic framework aims to pave the way for liberalization and tariff reductions.

“Japan remains Australia’s best export destination,” he said. “There is no better customer for Australian products than Japan. If it hadn’t been for Japan through the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s, Australia would not be as affluent as it now is.”

Japanese cattle breeders want their government to raise the tariff, but major beef exporters in the United States and Australia, as well as Japanese food industry and consumer groups, oppose the move.

Howard is to leave the Philippines for Japan on Tuesday and spend two days in Tokyo before going on to South Korea.