030734 Australia Complains About Japan Beef Tariff

July 17, 2003

Tokyo - Australian Prime Minister John Howard complained to Japan's foreign minister Wednesday about a planned increase in Japanese tariffs on Australian beef imports.

But he said Japan will likely continue to be Australia's best export customer.

Howard told Japan Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi that a recent rise in Australia's beef exports to Japan, which has triggered the planned tariff increase, merely returns beef exports to a normal level following the sharp downturn when several cases of mad-cow disease were discovered in Japanese cattle in late 2001.

"What this highlights of course is how the World Trade Organization rules remain loaded against agricultural exporters such as Australia," he told reporters.

"There hasn't been an unexpected surge (in Australian beef exports to Japan), there has been a return to normalcy following the downturn induced by" the mad- cow disease discovery," Howard said.

Kawaguchi told the Australian leader that she would raise the issue with Japan's agriculture minister, Howard said. But Howard added that "the Japanese legislation is tight," suggesting there is little room for negotiation.

Australian beef exporters expect Japan to increase its beef import tariff to 50% from 38.5%.

Howard also plans to raise the issue with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi when the two meet.

Still, Howard recommitted Australia to an ongoing close relationship with Japan, which "remains our best customer."

"Japan will remain a crucial economic partner for Australia," he added, not only as an export destination but as the second-largest source of tourists visiting Australia.

More generally on trade, the prime minister reiterated Australia's continuing complaint on agricultural trade barriers, which not only hurt Australia's export prospects but particularly those of developing nations.

He said the level of protection on agriculture in the U.S., Japan and particularly the European Union "represent very significant barriers to the efforts of developing countries to sell their products."


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