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Japan suggests expanding rice import quota by 5-35%
Japan has proposed at agricultural trade liberalization talks of the World Trade Organization that it will expand its "minimum access" import quota for rice by 5 to 35 percent, depending on the margin of tariff cuts to be applied, farm ministry officials said Friday.

Japan and eight other major food-importing economies, which have sought more lenient tariff reductions for politically sensitive items at the WTO talks, have tabled a calculation method linking tariff-cut rates with the minimum access quota for imports, they said.

For example, Japan imposes a 778 percent tariff on imports of rice, the country's staple food, if the amount exceeds the minimum access quota of 767,000 tons per year, or 7.2 percent of total rice consumption in the country. Lower tariffs are applied for imports under that quota.

When the tariff reduction rate for rice is halved compared with that for non-sensitive products, the import quota must be widened by 20 percent. If the tariff reduction rate for rice is 80 percent and 20 percent of normal tariff-cutting rates, the quota will be expanded by 5 percent and 35 percent, respectively, they said.

The basic principle is that the greater the deviation from the tariff reduction formula for non-sensitive items, the greater the increase in tariff quotas for sensitive products.

The rates for import quota expansion could also depend on the size of currently set minimum access quotas.

For another of Japan's sensitive farm products, wheat, the new proposal says the quota could be expanded by 1 percent to 7 percent. The current quota is set at the equivalent of 90 percent of total consumption.

Under the plan by the nine net food importers, Japan would be required to expand the minimum access quota for rice to accommodate more than 805,000 tons per year.

However, the major food-importing economies have also said that depending on further negotiations among WTO players, the margin of expansion could be smaller than 5 percent.

In addition to rice and wheat, Japan considers dairy products, starch, peanuts and beans as politically sensitive, among other items. The nine food importers together form the so-called Group of 10, which accounts for 13 percent of the world's agriculture imports.

The G-10 members are Japan, Switzerland, South Korea, Norway, Mauritius, Taiwan, Israel, Liechtenstein and Iceland. Bulgaria left the group to join the European Union in 2007.

Those net food-importing economies seek to protect up to 15 percent of the products as politically sensitive items. The European Union wants to designate 8 percent as such items, while the United States and food-exporting Brazil and other developing countries have called for limiting those products to 1 percent of the total.

WTO members aim to produce an outline of a detailed accord on farm and industrial areas involving numerical goals for tariff-cutting formula by the end of April. The G-10 hopes to reflect its proposal in the negotiations, the officials said.
MGR Archive 16.4.2006
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