Agriculture minister Yoshiyuki Kamei voiced concern Friday over a joint proposal issued by the United States and the European Union on World Trade Organization farm trade talks, ministry officials said.

“There are areas where Japan has difficulty in responding,” Kamei said during a meeting with Richard Christenson, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy.

The joint proposal includes the establishment of an upper limit for tariffs on farm products and the expansion of low-tariff import quotas on such products.

Kamei said it is necessary to ensure flexibility in future WTO negotiations, the officials said.

In response, Christenson said it is important to move the WTO farm trade talks forward and urged Japan to make more of an effort to forge an agreement in the agriculture sector. He stated that WTO member economies must negotiate specific numbers from this point on, according to the officials.

In a related move, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi ordered Kamei in the afternoon to conduct the WTO negotiations in a steady manner by forming an alliance with the U.S., government officials said.

Kamei briefed Koizumi on the U.S.-EU proposal and told Koizumi that he plans to visit the U.S. and Europe at the end of August or in early September to hold ministerial meetings there.

Koizumi’s desire for an alliance with the U.S. instead of the EU, with which Japan has hitherto formed a joint front during WTO farm trade negotiations, could signify a turnaround in Japan’s strategy.

The WTO farm trade talks have become bogged down as exporters such as the U.S. and importers, including Japan and the EU, have failed to bridge their differences.

The U.S.-EU proposal blends their respective proposals into a hybrid formula aimed at reducing subsidies for farmers and implementing sizable tariff cuts.

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