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Japan argues seaweed should fall under WTO industrial talks

SWITZERLAND - There's something fishy about Japan's tariff rules. Six years into global commerce talks, Tokyo is still trying to convince countries that the seaweed eaten with sushi and other Japanese dishes should be considered alongside cars, jets and television sets in discussions about tariff cuts.

The issue is a minor one in the WTO's frustratingly slow effort to reach a new world trade pact, but indicative of the myriad battles waged by 151 members across the farming, manufacturing and services sectors.

The global trade talks known as the Doha round have repeatedly stalled since their inception in Qatar's capital in 2001, largely because of wrangling between rich and poor nations over eliminating barriers to farm trade and, more recently, manufacturing trade.

Don Stephenson, the global trade body's lead industrial negotiator, told delegates Monday that he was seeing little progress over the seaweed and other "fish products" which Japan and Switzerland reject as valid topics in agricultural talks, where they would be subject to deeper liberalization.

Seaweed, a form of algae, is scientifically considered to be a simple plant. But because it is plucked from the sea by Japan's fishermen, Tokyo argues that it should fall under the tariff cuts that it is negotiating for its fishing industry.

The Swiss are seeking to prevent imports of fish meal used for animal feed, arguing that it too ought to be considered under the WTO's industrial discussions.

India and others rejected a Swiss-Japanese proposal presented Monday that would allow each country to shift a number of products from agriculture to manufacturing as exceptions. Many countries fear such an option would open a Pandora's box in WTO talks that have already produced thousands of documented offers, explanations and exchanges.

Source: International Herald Tribune