WASHINGTON (Kyodo) The United States, in a trade report released Tuesday, urged Japan to fulfill its “minimum access” rice-import obligation set under World Trade Organization rules.

In its 2009 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said Japan’s regulated rice import system “limits meaningful access” by foreign rice growers to Japanese consumers.

The trade report said Japan failed to meet the WTO rice-import quota in fiscal 2007, which ended last month, due to higher-than-normal global rice prices. The USTR was referring to the fact that Japan was supposed to import 770,000 tons of unmilled rice for the year but the amount purchased was about 70,000 tons short of that level.

“The U.S. government’s expectation is that Japan will completely fill its in-quota TRQ (tariff rate quota) quantity for fiscal 2008, and we continue to closely monitor Japan’s rice import tendering process,” the USTR said.

Addressing Japan’s insurance market, the trade report urged Japan to ensure “a level playing field” between Japan Post Insurance Co., wholly owned by the Japan Post Group, and private-sector insurers.

Noting Japan Post Insurance remains “a dominant force” in the Japanese insurance market, the USTR said it has “long-standing concerns about the postal insurance company’s impact on competition in Japan’s insurance market.”

Establishing equivalent conditions of competition between Japan Post Insurance and private insurers in line with Japan’s basic postal reform law is “critical to cultivate competition, enhance consumer choices, encourage more efficient resources allocation and stimulate economic growth,” said the report.

The USTR renewed its call for Japan to raise the age limit on cattle eligible for import from the currently agreed 20 months and fully reopen its market to U.S. beef imports.

The report said Washington has repeatedly urged Japan to bring its measures against mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, in line with international guidelines set by the World Organization for Animal Health by allowing imports of all U.S. beef and beef products derived from animals of all ages deemed safe under OIE guidelines.

“The U.S. government remains highly concerned by Japan’s unwillingness to adopt science-based, international guidelines for BSE under which beef and beef products can be safely traded,” it said.

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