Japan will impose emergency tariffs on foreign beef and pork in response to an increase in imports amid waning concern over mad cow disease, the government said Tuesday.
The so-called safeguard measure may hurt the nation’s food industry by pushing up prices, and could also spark a trade spat with major suppliers, including the United States and Australia.
The 50 percent tariff on fresh and refrigerated beef, up from 38.5 percent, will be imposed Friday and run through March 31.
The surge in foreign beef was recorded in the April-June period, when imports jumped 34 percent. The rise exceeded the 17 percent year-on-year increase on a cumulative quarterly basis that allows Japan to introduce the safeguard barriers under a law based on World Trade Organization rules.
The increase was in fact a return to normal levels following a plunge in beef imports in the same period last year, when Japanese consumers shunned beef after the discovery of the country’s first case of mad cow disease in September 2001.
The tariff increase will not apply to imports of frozen beef, which only grew by 5 percent in the April-June quarter.
The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said the tariff increase could boost retail prices of beef by up to 2.5 percent.
But Finance Minister Masajuro Shiokawa said he does not expect the increased tariffs to significantly affect retail prices.
“Domestic beef has recently comprised a large portion of the market,” he told a news conference. “Although (the higher tariffs) will pose a burden for retailers, I do not expect them to aggressively raise overall retail prices of beef.”
Yoshiaki Watanabe, vice minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, said he expects retailers will make “corporate efforts” to offset the increased cost.
The agriculture ministry said it will conduct an emergency survey of wholesale prices of beef in a step to prevent “me-too” price increases.
The government will also slap an emergency tariff on pork for the same period after imports rose by 29 percent in the April-June quarter. Under Japan’s trade rules, pork imports can be restricted if they rise more than 19 percent over the average figure for the same quarter in the previous three years.
The tariff will be imposed by raising the government-mandated standard import price, meaning that the gap between the price and import prices will serve as a tariff.
In the case of cut-meat imports, the price will be raised to 681.08 yen per kg from 546.53 yen.