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Japan Defends Restrictions on U.S. Beef

Tokyo takes issue with a U.S. report on trade barriers.

Japan said Thursday that current restrictions on U.S. beef imports should be strictly adhered to rather than relaxed, saying a U.S. report on trade barriers was "inaccurate."

Japan was among 63 trading partners mentioned in the 2007 National Trade Estimate report released last month by the U.S. Trade Representative, with Japan receiving the third most extensive coverage with 31 pages reviewing its trade policies.

The Bush administration is required to prepare the report as a way of informing Congress of its priorities in trying to tear down harmful trade barriers.

"Although the two government have carried on constructive dialogue, the Report still contains many inaccurate or unilateral descriptions," Japan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

After "due consideration," Japan's government submitted its comments to the U.S. government on Wednesday, the statement says.

Japan tightly controls U.S. beef imports and allows cuts only from cattle 20 months old or younger, which it deems safe. A number of U.S. exporters have been banned from exporting beef to Japan due to various violations of its import conditions.

Washington, however, has been pressing Japan to open its markets fully to all beef deemed safe under World Organization for Animal Health guidelines.

"Every country is allowed to introduce or maintain more severe sanctions than international standards if there is a scientifically justifiable reason," the Japanese government said in its comments, available on the Foreign Ministry's Web site.

Before the ban on American beef three years ago, Japan had been the top destination for U.S. beef, importing $1.4 billion worth a year.

The Japanese government will seek the "correct understanding" of the U.S. about Japanese positions expressed in the comments through bilateral forums, the ministry said its statement.

Critics say the Bush administration has failed to forcefully pursue unfair trade barriers and they contend this inaction has contributed to America's soaring trade deficits, which last year hit an all-time high of $765.3 billion, the fifth consecutive record. The deficit with China totaled $232.5 billion, the highest ever recorded with a single country.

Source: Associated Press

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