Japan eases up on import curbs

Japan's trade minister summoned the ambassadors of the United States, Canada, and the Common Market nations Thursday in a diplomatic offensive to win support for Japan's sweeping new trade proposals.

In a last-ditch bid to avoid Western criticism over its trade policies at next week's economic summit meeting in France, the Foreign Ministry announced the reduction or elimination of 215 import tariffs, expansion of some agricultural import quotas, and easing of import procedures.

The action followed a series of measures taken at the start of this year to accelerate other tariff cuts and dismantle nontariff barriers. The earlier steps failed to satisfy Western critics of Japan's export-led economic strategy. Last year the United States had a deficit in trade with Japan of $18 billion, while the European Community deficit rose to more than $13 billion.

The package eases several agricultural product import tariffs and quotas which should benefit US farmers. But Japan's powerful farm lobby blocked the government from giving in on two key demands made by Washington: to drop quotas on beef and citrus fruit imports. Japanese farmers command the highest prices in the industrial world for beef, and orange and grapefruit prices are far above US levels.

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