• Kyodo

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Japan unveiled a vague counterproposal Wednesday on how to reform global farm trade that could be interpreted as supporting a compromise drafted by the United States and the European Union.

The proposal reiterates Japan’s opposition to a ceiling on tariffs on farm produce and the expansion of low-tariff import quotas on products whose tariff rates are above the ceiling, trade sources said.

But it is filled with elusive words that could be interpreted to mean that Japan favors the U.S.-EU proposal over those put forward by Brazil and some other developing countries, which call for eliminating all domestic protection, they said.

Japan presented the proposal to intensive negotiations aimed at reaching a compromise on farm trade liberalization weeks before a crucial ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization.

The issue of how to liberalize farm trade is one of the biggest stumbling blocks standing in the way of successfully concluding the Doha round of global trade talks under the WTO by the Jan. 1, 2005, deadline.

Trade negotiators failed to meet an end-of-March deadline for agreeing on a framework for farm trade liberalization and are now trying to reach a compromise prior to the Sept. 10-14 WTO ministerial meeting at the Mexican beach resort of Cancun.

The U.S.-EU proposal, presented to other WTO members last week, deals with the so-called three pillars of farm trade liberalization — market access, export subsidies and domestic support.

The plan does not contain specific figures concerning tariff cuts, but it calls for lowering tariffs on farm products whose tariff rates are above a certain ceiling or expanding low-tariff import quotas for such products.

The Japanese proposal calls for “a well-balanced framework on farm trade liberalization,” paying particular attention to the concerns of farm importers.

Meanwhile, a group of 16 developing countries led by Brazil, China and India presented their joint proposal calling for a drastic cut in domestic subsidies in industrial nations and guaranteeing the preferential treatment of developing countries.