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US-Japan trade talks: more than oranges

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Japanese and US trade negotiators have a difficult task - but one that is nonetheless vital for future bilateral relations between the two nations: agreeing on a new agricultural pact that pries open the highly restricted Japanese market to more American farm products.

At issue are US exports of citrus products (mainly oranges) and beef. The current pact, which expires in March, allows for only modest US exports.

The United States would like to expand its farm exports.

Opening up the Japanese market would be beneficial, not just to the US agricultural community, but to Japanese consumers as well. The US can ship beef into Japan for about half the price of domestically produced Japanese beef. There are, of course, cultural and economic reasons as to why Japan wants to restrict such imports. Farms in Japan are much smaller than US farms. Thus, some Japanese farmers could be financially hurt by stepped-up imports.

The fairness issue should not be overlooked. Last year Japan had a total trade surplus with the US of $20 billion.

Japanese consumer goods (including cars) are now in direct competition with scores of US-made goods within the American market.

Yet Japan continues to close off or sharply limit its own domestic market to a broad range of US goods, including farm products. Such restrictions can only increase pressures in Congress for protectionist legislation designed to retaliate against Japanese goods.

Restrictive protectionist laws are not in the best interest of either nation.

The US has gone far in opening up its market to Japanese goods. Now, the two sides should work out a mutually acceptable agreement on oranges and beef.

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