Japan should lift strict government restrictions on imports of 12 agricultural products in the interest of countering mounting protectionist sentiments in Washington, Richard Lyng, U.S. secretary of Agriculture, advised Japanese authorities at the weekend.
During meetings with high-level Japanese government officials, including Mutsuki Kato, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries minister, Mr. Lyng urged that the two countries open full-fledged negotiations concerning Japan's relatively limited markets for U.S. farm products.In addition, Mr. Lyng pressed the Japanese to drastically expand import quotas on beef, rice grain and oranges.
Mr. Lyng stressed that favorable actions by Japan in the agricultural trade sector would result in relieving pressures in Washington to impose protectionist and other punitive measures on Japanese imports of a wide nature.
Mr. Lyng told Mr. Kato during a 90-minute meeting that the Reagan administration would like the Japanese to significantly relax controls and to lower tariffs on the import of U.S. and other foreign agricultural goods, stressing that by doing so it would permit Japan's consumers to purchase food items as prices considerably below what they are currently paying.
However, Mr. Kato, a prominent member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party whose leaders realize they would not long remain in power without the political support of the nation's farmers, pointed out that Japan is one of the world's largest importers of U.S. agricultural products.
In addition, the Japanese agricultural minister stressed that Japan reduced its farm support budget by 12 percent in the years between 1980 and 1986 while both the United States and the 12-nation European Community expanded their own budgets in this sector by 69 percent and 94 percent respectively during these same years.
It is expected that Mr. Lyng and Mr. Kato will be joined in their talks today by Clayton Yeutter, U.S. Trade Representative in an attempt to reach some sort of compromise arrangement on the issues.
One of the most difficult problems facing the two countries is Washington's demands that Japan open its market to importation of U.S. rice. Mr. Kato emphasized during the talks that rice has been his nation's main staple since its foundation. This is a highly controversial issue in Japan.
However, Mr. Yeutter, acting on behalf of a petition filed by the U.S. Rice Millers'Association claiming that the Japanese should end their near- total ban on importation of the grain, has insisted that Japan's authorities take action on the issue by the middle of this year.
Mr. Kato has countered that the Japanese government has been encouraging domestic farmers to slash their rice output and to avoid overproduction. Nonetheless, he added, Japan must protect its agricultural sector in order to maintain self-sufficiency in food supplies.
Speaking on this issue during the discussions, Mr. Lyng reminded the Japanese that for a trading nation as large as Japan to insist upon furnishing it own rice supplies to the almost total exclusion of imports and at prices several times higher than international prices is nothing less than outright protectionism.
Unless some agreement is forthcoming on the rice and general farm product importation restrictions during the current discussions, according to the Reagan administration, this problem will become the subject of discussions by a newly established panel under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which is scheduled to meet in Geneva on May 7.
In the meantime, it was pointed out by the U.S. delegation accompanying Mr. Lyng that the Reagan administration is counting upon the Japanese to honor their obligation to enter bilateral talks this autumn concerning the expansion of Japan's imports of U.S. oranges and beef.
Under an accord reached in April 1984, Japan is required to increase its annual import quotas regarding beef by 6,900 tons during fiscal 1987, a term ending in March 1988. In 1983, for example, Japan imported only 38,000 tons. The agreement also requires Japan to expand its imports of oranges by 11,000 tons annually during the four-year period.
Although it would appear that the Japanese are not prepared to give ground on the sensitive rice importation issue there is evidence that some concessions will be forthcoming on the beef and orange quotas.
Mr. Lyng told the Japanese that-- the United States would be able to --- expand farm exports to Japan within a few years if Tokyo eliminated its --- import barriers.