New Farm Minister Not Interested in Rethink of US Beef Import Curbs

JAPAN - Ken Saito, newly appointed minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, says he is not considering rethinking the country’s safeguard emergency import restriction system for beef, which has been criticized by the United States.
calendar icon 9 August 2017
clock icon 2 minute read

"The safeguard was introduced in exchange for tariff cuts (on imported beef), and we are not reconsidering it," Mr Saito said in an interview on Friday, the day after he took office in a Cabinet reshuffle.

"It is important to talk more with the US side and gain their understanding."

The Japan Times reports that under the system, based on World Trade Organization rules, Japan has carried out an emergency tariff hike for frozen foreign beef in response to soaring imports. Japan is the biggest beef export market for the United States, according to US data.

Mr Saito also said he is not planning to conclude a bilateral free trade agreement with the United States.

He stressed that the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, which the United States quit earlier this year, is the "most significant in Japan’s trade strategy."

Mr Saito defended central government subsidies to prompt producers of rice as a staple food to switch to the production of rice for feed, saying that the aid is not designed to protect farmers.

The subsidy programme is aimed at maintaining rice paddies, which take a lot of time to recover once production is stopped, he said.

"The point is whether consumers agree to pay several yen per day for food security in order to prevent our children and grandchildren from starving," he said.

Mr Saito said it is "natural" to take protective measures for domestic agricultural producers to prepare for market liberalization under the Japan-European Union economic partnership agreement, over which the two sides reached a broad accord last month.

"Meanwhile, we will also consider steps to take the offensive in exports to the EU, which will abolish most of the tariffs on agricultural products from Japan," the minister said.

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