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US Pressures Japan to Open Up Agriculture Market

The United States is renewing pressure on Japan to reduce trade barriers on agricultural goods. As Yuriko Nagano reports from Tokyo, Ambassador Thomas Schieffer says bluntly that unless Japan opens its markets, the U.S. will take its business elsewhere.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer says that Japan needs to do more to open its markets. Ambassador Schieffer urged Tokyo to allow more foreign investment, since Japan still has the lowest ratio of foreign direct investment to gross domestic product among the world's most developed countries. He also called agricultural trade a "stumbling block" for greater economic cooperation between the U.S. and Japan.

Although Japan imports more than half of its food, there are stiff tariffs and other restrictions on many products - especially rice, fruit and beef. This effort to protect Japanese farmers has resulted in some of the highest food prices in the world for Japanese consumers.

The United States, as a food-exporting nation, has long tried to open Japan's market. In his speech to business leaders, Schieffer indicated that there could be consequences if there is no progress.

"If one side takes the position that we are not going to open the agricultural market to greater access by American companies that is a non-starter for us and we will just put our resources in other places," he said. "I hope that does not offend anyone. That is just the way that it works."

The ambassador says he realizes the emotions involved in the debate over opening up Japan's farm market. He says he is aware of Japan's deprivation after World War II and that many elderly here still remember days when there was not enough homegrown food.

But he noted that the average age of Japan's farmer is 70, so it is inevitable that Tokyo will have to accept more imports.

In addition to trade criticism from the United States, economists and politicians in Europe and elsewhere have begun to complain that Japan unfairly keeps the yen weak by maintaining low interest rates. They say this gives Japanese products a price advantage in world markets, and creates an imbalance in the flow of funds around the world.