THE Japanese Government's plan to increase import tariffs on beef by up to 50 per cent has been met with cries of protest from Australia.
Under a "safeguard" deal negotiated at the Uruguay round of World Trade Organisation talks, the Japanese could increase beef tariffs to 50pc if the cumulative quarterly increase in chilled or frozen beef exports exceeded 17pc.
The tariffs stood at 38.5pc and a proposal to raise them to 50pc from August was due to be debated in the Japanese parliament this week.
Australia had been continuing to regain beef sales to Japan with recent figures showing exports close to pre-BSE levels.
Meat and Livestock Australia economic planning and market services manager Dr Peter Barnard said the increased tariffs would slow the recovery and suppress Australian exports.
He said the Australian beef industry and Government had invested millions of dollars to rebuild beef consumption in Japan. "This measure was designed to protect Japanese beef producers from a surge in imports," he said.
"It was not designed to be introduced in this situation when imports are recovering and simply returning to normal levels.
"It is legal but morally questionable."
WAFarmers Federation meat section president Mike Norton said most of Australia's $1.2 billion Japanese beef-export market was supplied from eastern Australia.
However, he said there could be some effect locally if beef, originally destined for Japan, was diverted to WA.
Mr Norton said the increasing value of the Australian dollar could have a bigger impact that the proposed increase in tariffs.
The Pastoralists and Graziers Association described the likelihood of an increase in the Japanese import tariff on Australian beef as disappointing and demoralising.
"This tariff, like all tariffs, does nobody any good," PGA meat and livestock committee chairman Wally Treloar said.
"Australian beef producers are penalised due to reduced access to the Japanese market and the Japanese consumers are penalised through having to pay more for the best and safest been in the world."
WA beef exports to Japan were valued at about $25 million, most of it from the Nebru Plains operation at Three Springs.
EG Green and Sons recently opened up a beef market in Japan.
Chief executive officer Garry Minton said it was always a concern when tariffs were introduced but that they would wait and see who was going to pay the tariff, the importer, exporter or end user.
The MLA and Australian Government will continue to lobby the Japanese Government to not increase the penalty tariff from August 1 as planned.