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|Wednesday, February 21, 2001, updated at 15:04(GMT+8)|
Smell of Gunpowder Engulfs Sino-Japan Vegetable TradeSouth Korea once imposed a tariff on China's garlic as high as 315 percent and caused a stir to Sino-ROK bilateral trade relations. While recently Japan, in response to protest from its farmers, may slap an urgent high tariff on China's vegetables, which boast high quality and low prices.
Last Thursday (February 10), through contacts with vegetable enterprises in Shandong and Hebei provinces journalist found that they knew nothing about it, and the next day experts from MOFTEC said another trade war after the Sino-ROK garlic jostle would be inevitable if Japan takes unilateral action. As things stand, China's vegetable prices are much lower in domestic markets than in Japan's markets, so no one can say it's dumping and apparently the measure, should it be taken by Japan, is aimed obviously to protect the rights of its farmers.
Why Japan "hates" Chinese vegetables?
Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has really got a headache. Last January to October Japan's fresh vegetable imports had been on a record level, exerting great pressure on its wholesale and retailing prices, hence the urgent demand for a tight control over imports.
Latest statistics tell that during the period Japan's fresh vegetable imports hit 746,000 tons, a new record high and 5 percent up over previous year. The ten months saw sharp increase on many a variety of vegetables. Onion imports reached 206,000 tons, 26 percent up, and tomato 10,200 tons, a twofold over the year before. Leek stood at 32,900 tons, 60 percent up, and pepper increased by 43 percent, most from China. The Ministry held that this had harmed Japan's agriculture and therefore requested the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry to investigate Chinese imports so as to take corresponding actions. This is the first investigation ever conducted since Japan joined GATT (nowadays WTO) in 1955.
As the world biggest agricultural product importer, Japan's vegetable imports account for 11 percent of its total agricultural products and 15 percent of its vegetable consumption. Japan imports vegetables from more than 70 countries and China's exports, with over 50 varieties, take up 40 percent of Japan's imports.
Japanese farmers defeated by low prices
The year 1988 began to see Japan's trade deficit toward China but concerns were aroused only recently. After all, most imports in the past were products from its joint ventures in China and Japan had been good at reaping China's cheap labors and natural resources with their capital and technology.
But now things have changed, especially in the most sensitive field of agricultural products. Improved refrigeration technique, high-efficient retailing, on top of Japanese businessmen's cost considerations during a time of depression, have all led to a boom of Chinese potato, eggplant, onion and garlic's supermarket in Japan. On today's Tokyo wholesale market, one ton of cabbage costs over US$400 and leek US$700, while China's products, at a price two third lower, have quickly controlled 40 percent of Japan's vegetable market share.
Chinese vegetable exporters totally in the dark
Enterprises on vegetable production and processing in Shandong and Hebei provinces have got satisfactory returns, but they still not know a thing about the possible high tariff levying.
Shandong Province is most successful in farm produce exports, which boasts 30-odd such enterprises in Auqiu County alone. Weifang Ludong Food Ltd is one of these, operating with a staff of 600 people. Not knowing Japan's purported action, they are optimistic about a satisfactory future. They exported 700 tons leek 1999 and over 1000 tons last year and are still doing their every possible bit for 2000 tons this year on an enlarged scale without doubt, says Mr Zou from the business department of the company.
By PD Online Staff Li Heng
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