TOKYO — A backlash is growing among Japanese lawmakers against what they call "high-handed" pressure from the United States to end Japan's curbs on imports of farm products.
Sadanori Yamanaka, former head of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, warned Tuesday that "a cornered mouse may bite at a cat."
"We can find other sources, such as Argentina," for Japan's imports of agricultural products, Yamanaka said.
Japan buys almost 20% of all U.S. agricultural exports, or nearly $6 billion worth in 1986, according to Japanese government estimates.
Yamanaka, chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's Livestock Promotion Caucus, added, "Japan has a small military; its population is half that of the United States, and it has very few resources, which are nothing to U.S. resources.
"However, Japan is a sovereign nation, and it is possible that Japan will bite at the United States . . . if and when Japan can no longer endure the high-handed U.S. demands that are imposed on us one after another."
Last year, Washington complained to a panel of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, alleging that Japan's import restraints on 12 farm products violate GATT's world trade rules.
The 12 include milk products, processed cheese, fruit purees, prepared beef and pork products, tomato juice, ketchup, beans and peanuts.
The GATT panel recently found Japan's restriction on 10 of the 12 illegal. The panel's interim report made no mention of beans and peanuts, Yamanaka said.
In the past two weeks, he added, 364 Liberal Democratic Party members of the Diet (parliament), or nearly 90% of all the party's members of both houses, have signed a petition to Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, opposing removal of curbs on the 12 products.
Last Wednesday, Japan's powerful Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives said that it might consider rejecting imports of U.S. wheat and feed grains, such as corn and sorghum, because of the dispute.
The National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Assn., an affiliate of the union, annually imports about 9 million tons of feed grains, including 6 million tons from the United States.
On Monday, Japanese Ambassador Nobuo Matsunaga met in Washington with U.S. Trade Representative Clayton K. Yeutter to seek a solution.
Blow to Economy
Japan's Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Takashi Sato told reporters earlier Tuesday that the two governments were studying Japan's offer, including "partial lifting of import restrictions" on some of the 12 products. He did not elaborate.
Yamanaka argued that Japan is the largest agricultural product importing nation in the world and that ending restraints on all farm product imports would cut Japan's goal trade surplus by less than $4 billion.
Yet, he said, "Liberalization of the 12 products will no doubt deal a devastating blow to the regional economy in many rural areas (of Japan). At the same time, it will seriously affect Japanese sentiment toward the United States.
"This is because the United States itself possesses 19 items that are protected through (GATT) waivers and domestic laws such as the meat import law. I understand that EC (European Economic Community) countries and the United States are fighting a battle to win a greater market share, and the EC claims that the United States is exporting subsidized agricultural products to Egypt and Saudi Arabia."