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Asia Business: The Week Ahead - 2003-08-04

Australian farmers say new Japanese tariffs on imported beef will be damaging to them, and consolidation continues in Hong Kong's banking sector.

The head of Australia's Cattle Council, Keith Adams, is among those in the agriculture sector who are complaining about Japan's new tariffs. Japan last week announced it will impose emergency tariffs on imports of beef and pork for eight months, starting this month.

Mr. Adams tells the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that Japan's move will be very costly for cattle producers. "This is going to cost producers here in Australia up to $80 million a year, and this is coming at a time when many of our producers are still suffering the effects of the worst drought in history," he says.

Japan's Farm Ministry says it needs the tariff to protect local farmers after a sharp spike in imports during the quarter from April through June. The tariff on refrigerated beef and pork will rise to 50 percent from 38.5 percent.

Hong Kong's Wing Hang Bank says it will pay $615 million to buy Chekiang Bank from a unit of Japan's Mizuho Financial Group.

Wing Hang's chief executive, Patrick Fung, says the acquisition is the only viable way to expand the bank's revenue and branch network. After the acquisition, Wing Hang says it will be Hong Kong's fourth-largest listed bank, with total assets of more than $10 billion.

The Hong Kong government has long encouraged the dozens of banks in the territory to consolidate. The city is an international banking center, and more than one hundred local and international financial institutions operate here. In the past few years, one Hong Kong bank was taken over by a Singapore company, and the owners of another local bank say they are seeking a buyer.

Hong Kong's fifth largest lender, Bank of East Asia, reported a stronger than expected net profit for the first half of the year of about $101 million. That was an increase of five percent compared with the first six months of last year.

BEA Chairman David Li says the bank had about 15 percent growth in non-interest income.