ASEAN's head has warned Tokyo that it is being too inflexible in trade talks, and that could have consequences. The leader of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations - ASEAN - is warning Japan that it could lose its position in the regional market to rivals such as South Korea, unless it compromises more in free trade talks.

ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong says the 10 nations of the group want to expand exports to Japan. However, they are frustrated by what ASEAN says is Tokyo's unwillingness to open its market more to tropical fruit and other agricultural products.

"We are now reaching a critical point," said Secretary General Ong. "I now believe that we should look for re-establishing a normal trade relationship. Yes, you have some difficulties in regard to certain products. We can find a way to overcome it. But for some other products for which you do not really grow, why pay such a high price?"

ASEAN and Japan began negotiations on a free trade agreement in April. Talks are also under way with South Korea, which Mr. Ong says has shown more flexibility than Japan in negotiations.

Food Safety Panel Says Lifting Ban on US Beef Would Be 'Premature'

A Japanese food safety panel says it is premature to reopen the domestic market to American beef. The Food Safety Commission's special panel on mad cow disease says it wants to look further into the risks before recommending lifting the import ban.

Washington has been pressuring Tokyo to quickly resume imports, before the ban, which was imposed in December 2003 after a U.S. cow was found to have the lethal disease, Japan was America's most lucrative beef export market, totaling about $1.5 billion annually.

Department Store Sales Rise, Supemarket Sales Slump

Department stores in Japan report sales nationwide rose 1.1 percent in July compared with the same month last year. Store owners credit brisk sales of clothing thanks to the government's "Cool Biz" campaign, which encouraged office workers to dress down during the hot summer.

But the country's supermarkets report their sales dropped 2.3 percent in July, the 17th straight monthly decline. Analysts say that suggests the Japanese remain cautious about spending because of an uncertain outlook for the country's economy.

US Govt. Sues Toyobo Over Bullet-Resistant Fiber

Textile maker Toyobo is being sued by the U.S. government. It is the latest legal action involving the Japanese company's bullet-resistant fiber used in police vests. Like other suits filed by states and police organizations, the U.S. government case alleges Toyobo suppressed evidence about how fast its Zylon fabric would degrade.

Toyobo says the claims lack evidence and the company will defend itself in the U.S. courts.