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Consumers likely to reap only limited benefits from TPP due to US withdrawal

In this July 2017 file photo, consumers look at a variety of products at a cheese shop in a department store in Sapporo's Chuo Ward. (Mainichi)

Japanese consumers are likely to reap only limited benefits from the 11-state Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade agreement because the United States, a key exporter to Japan, has pulled out of the pact.

Under the new agreement, tariffs on 95.1 percent of 9,018 items including agricultural and manufactured products will be abolished immediately or after a certain period. If limited to agricultural products, 82.9 percent of the items will be subject to the elimination or reductions of import tariffs.

The tariff on beef, to which Japan attached particular importance during the TPP talks, will be lowered from the current 38.5 percent to 27.5 percent in the first year of the implementation of the pact, and then to 9 percent in its 16th year.

The operator of a major restaurant chain that serves Australian beef has expressed hope that TPP will bring benefits to the industry and consumers in the long run.

"Since the tariff is lowered on a step-by-step basis, we can't quickly pass benefits on to our customers, but the deal will be beneficial to consumers from a long-term perspective," an official of the company said. Yoshinoya Co., the operator of a "beef bowl" restaurant chain that uses American beef, on the other hand, will unlikely benefit from the free trade agreement, company officials said.

The tariff on wine, which is set at either 15 percent of imported prices or 125 yen per liter, will be gradually lowered before being eliminated during the eighth year after TPP comes into force.

Chilean wine has been enjoying growing popularity due to lowered prices under the bilateral economic partnership agreement (EPA), and Japan's imports of New Zealand wine is expected to increase after TPP is implemented.

Meanwhile, consumers in Japan will likely enjoy broader choices when it comes to cheese as tariffs on New Zealand cheese have been lowered or eliminated on a step-by-step basis. Moreover, the tariffs on cheese and wine from Europe will be reduced under the EPA that Japan and the EU broadly agreed on this past July.

Since the 11 remaining signatories have agreed to follow World Trade Organization rules regarding the standards for food safety, these countries will maintain the current regulations on the labeling of genetically modified foods, over which consumers are particularly concerned.

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