June 20, 2014 5:07 am JST

Japan may cut tariffs on Mexican pork

TOKYO -- The Japanese government on Thursday began considering lowering duties it slaps on pork imported from Mexico, a move likely to be seen as a swipe at the U.S. pork industry, which is lobbying Washington to maintain a hard line on the meat in trade talks with Tokyo.

     Under its economic partnership agreement with Mexico, Japan gives preferential treatment to a set amount of high-priced pork from that country, applying a 2.2% tariff rather than the usual 4.3%. For midpriced imported pork in general, levies are collected so as to keep its price in Japan at around 550 yen per kilogram. But Mexican pork can be sold lower, at about 535 yen.

     Should tariffs be reduced, consumers may see lower prices on some types of Mexican pork from around 2017. Japan had planned to review pork tariffs in 2015, but is speeding up the process and will dispatch negotiators to Mexico next month.

     Since Washington does not have an economic partnership agreement of its own with Tokyo, high duties on U.S. pork imports to Japan will remain in place unless an agreement is reached in ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact negotiations. If Japan altered its tariff structure such that the price of pork imported from Mexico fell while that from the U.S. remained the same, that could amount to a leveraging tactic not unlike Japan's move to grant preferential access to Australian beef under a separate agreement.

     U.S. agricultural lobbyists have been turning up the heat on Washington to push for greater concessions in bilateral TPP talks with Japan. In late May, five groups representing the U.S. pork and other food industries issued a statement urging the government to "conclude the TPP negotiations without Japan unless that nation agrees to provide significant market access for the United States." Tokyo, for its part, aims to get the U.S. to give ground so a deal can be reached soon.