Tokyo-based Excellence has been offering to match Japanese with surrogate mothers in South Korea since the beginning of the year, with two clients signed up, the head of the firm said Friday.

Excellence has been operating a sperm bank since 1996.

The company decided to launch the brokering business after a woman in her 40s, who was an Excellence client, arranged for a surrogate mother through a South Korean broker.

Excellence approached the South Korean broker and signed a contract to set up a surrogacy service, said Yuji Sasaki, who heads the company.

Sasaki said he has heard of no other Japanese company introducing South Korean medical institutions or surrogate mothers to Japanese clients.

Sasaki said the total cost for a surrogate birth in South Korea is up to 10 million, yen less than half the cost in the United States, a popular place for Japanese to arrange surrogate births.

Quoting the South Korean broker, Sasaki said medical techniques in South Korea are better than those in the U.S.

Another advantage is the shorter geographical distance, he said. And if a South Korean surrogate donates her egg to a Japanese couple, the child would still look Asian, he added.

A single woman in her 20s or 30s and a lesbian couple so far have applied for South Korean surrogate mothers, according to Sasaki.

In a report compiled in 2003, a health ministry panel proposed banning surrogacy and brokering services. But the panel supported in vitro fertilization using donated sperm or eggs.

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