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Japan Announces Tariff Cuts; Vows More Actions to Promote Imports

June 25, 1985

TOKYO (AP) _ Japan announced on Tuesday it was cutting or ending tariffs on more than 1,800 imports ranging from dried seaweed to antibiotics, and promised additional market-opening measures by July.

Japan had a foreign trade surplus last year of $45 billion, including $36.8 billion with the United States, and Japan’s trading partners have demanded Tokyo take more action to ease access for foreign goods to Japanese markets.

Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, commenting after the tariff reduction package was approved in a meeting between his Cabinet and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said, ″I hope foreign governments appreciate our efforts.″

″We have been placed under skeptical eyes. In that respect, we think we have done our best in terms of items of prime concern and the total number of items,″ Nakasone said in an interview broadcast on Japanese television.

Herb Hayde, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, said: ″It’s a good move. The most important thing in today’s announcement is the Japanese government statement where they come up front and say ’We are ready to eliminate the tariffs on our own.‴

A U.S. government official in Tokyo, who spoke on condition he not be identified, said the large number of items in the package meant immediate comment would not be possible.

″With a reduction or elimination of over 1,800 different tariff items, it’s impossible to make a rapid, educated analysis of its effects,″ he said.

Under Tuesday’s arrangement, duties on 36 agricultural products of prime concern to Southeast Asian countries are to be reduced by at least 20 percent starting next April.

The products include bananas, boneless chicken and palm oil. Reduction rates for these items are to be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Tariffs on 1,600 manufactured and mining products and 160 agricultural processed goods will also be decreased by 20 percent.

Import levies on 34 other manufactured goods and 30 other items with current tariffs of less than 2 percent will be abolished.

The across-the-board reduction is subject to a safeguard. If the 20 percent cuts cause ″considerable″ damage to local industry, the measures may be suspended, the announcement said.

Foreign Ministry officials said it was unlikely such a provision would be used.

Currently, tariffs are levied in Japan on about 2,300 items, with an average rate of 3 percent. That compares with average rates of about 4 percent for the United States and 5 percent for Europe.

Among the 440 items not included in Tuesday’s package are prime agricultural commodities like rice and grain; goods with import quotas such as beef and oranges; chocolate, herring, flower bulbs, dairy products such as cheese and plywood; products supported by government subsidies, such as sugar; and crude oil and coal.

Ministers in Nakasone’s Cabinet emphasized the tariff reduction is only the beginning of the total package of market-opening measures, dubbed the ″action program″ by Nakasone when he promised on April 9 to adopt a three-year plan.

″This decision is only a first step,″ Toshio Komoto, state minister for external economic relations, told a news conference.

Nakasone has pledged that Japan will adopt a principle of ″free access″ for foreign products.

If his ″action program″ fails, Japan could come under more severe criticism from its trading partners. The United States and the Common Market, which tallied a $10 billion trade deficit, are among those who have been applying pressure for lower Japanese barriers.

In a report on its trade accomplishments to date, issued Tuesday, the Japanese government stated that it was ready to eliminate tariffs on all manufactured goods ″along with other advanced, industrialized nations″ and introduce measures beneficial for developing countries.

It said it was specifically prepared to discuss with the United States the mutual elimination of tariffs on high-technology items including computers, satellites, video games, advanced medical machines, nuclear reactors, industrial robots and ceramics.

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