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In a last-ditch effort to save the Doha round of global trade talks, the World Trade Organization last week went public with its draft agreements. The move followed the June 21 breakdown of a meeting of four core negotiating partners — the United States, the European Union, Brazil and India. On July 18, one day after the draft agreements were released, the Japanese government announced that it could not agree to them at this point.

There is no doubt that the draft agreements are unpalatable to Japan, which wants to protect its agriculture from imports. But suspicion that the government’s reaction was aimed at securing votes from farmers in the Upper House election cannot be ruled out. If this is true, it is regrettable.

The draft agreements call for limiting the number of important product items that will be protected by high tariffs to a maximum 6 percent of all the product items subject to import tariffs — a figure far lower than the 15 percent demanded by the Japanese government.

If the proposal is applied to agricultural products, Japan can protect only about 60 agricultural items. Currently more than 100 rice, meat, sugar and dairy product items are protected by high tariffs. Japan would be forced to slash tariffs on many of these items. According to the draft agreements, if high tariffs are kept, the minimum amount of import of such items must be raised. The farm lobby strongly opposes the WTO proposals.

The WTO system has greatly benefited Japan, which relies on trade for its survival. It allows Japan to import a variety of products at lower costs from a variety of sources and export its products without difficulty. Every party must make concessions in global trade talks. It is imperative that Japan not lose sight of the larger picture concerning the benefits from the WTO trade system. Negotiations will resume in early September. Japan should adopt a positive attitude and work to ensure that the round can be successfully concluded at an early date.

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