GENEVA (Kyodo) Japan cannot accept a 5 percent cap on the number of “sensitive” farm products on which World Trade Organizations members maintain high tariffs, agriculture minister Katsutoshi Matsuoka said Monday.
Matsuoka made clear Tokyo’s stance after holding talks with WTO Director General Pascal Lamy.
According to the agriculture ministry, the number of products contained in Japan’s tariff line, or the total number of products that carry a tariff, is currently 1,326. Of these, high tariffs are imposed on 17 rice, 20 wheat, 56 sugar and 47 dairy products.
The number of “sensitive products” on which Japan wants to maintain high tariffs would be lowered to 66 if the 5 percent limit were to be applied.
This would force Japan to substantially cut import tariffs on many of those products.
Earlier Monday, Crawford Falconer, chairman of the WTO’s agriculture negotiations committee, released a paper saying, “My report to the (Trade Negotiations Committee) noted that proposals extended from as little as 1 percent to as much as 15 percent of tariff lines.
“That remains formally the case, but I frankly believe that the general center of gravity is now actually much more convergent than that. I would estimate it to be higher than 1 percent certainly, but not above 5 percent,” he said.
Japan and other WTO member states are set to come up with their views on the chairman’s paper during agriculture negotiations May 7. After that, Falconer is expected to circulate a paper on a detailed agreement on ways to cut tariffs on farm produce by the end of May.
The agriculture negotiations are centered on the reduction of import tariffs, domestic support and export subsidies. There is a sharp difference of views on a variety of issues between food-importing and -exporting countries and developed and developing countries.
The developing world has called on the U.S. to substantially whittle down domestic support. But U.S. lawmakers are showing no signs of making concessions on the back of strong pressure from domestic farmers. In an apparent move to counter such a demand, they have urged developing countries to open their markets wider to imports.
Lamy wants the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations under the 150-member WTO concluded by the end of the year.
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