On February 25 this year, the Jiangsu Provincial Laver Association submitted a request to the Ministry of Commerce to investigate the legitimacy of Japanese quotas on laver imports. Laver is edible seaweed.
The inquiry will run for six months and can be extended for another three months.
It is the first such investigation in China since the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation, which merged with the Ministry of Commerce last March, issued a temporary rule on investigations into other countries' trade barriers in September 2002.
If it is decided that barriers do exist, the ministry will resolve the problem through bilateral negotiations or submitting the matter to the multilateral dispute settlement body under the World Trade Organization.
Its report will be made public.
Wang Tingzhu, vice chairman of the Jiangsu Provincial Association of Laver, which represents 107 members, welcomed the ministry's decision, saying the discriminatory Japanese practice can no longer be tolerated.
"We have been barred from exporting to Japan for years because Japan only gives import quotas for laver to South Korea," Wang said.
Imports of laver, a major component of the Japanese diet, are controlled by a quota system. Japan is the largest consumer of laver in the world.
Wang said Japan's stance is hard to understand as China's laver is similar in quality and production methods to South Korea's.
Members of the association produce more than half of the laver in China.
Shen Sibao, a trade expert from the University of International Business and Economics, said the investigation will help China improve its trade environment as its products face increasing barriers globally.
"The first investigation, although about a year after the rule on investigations was issued, will assist other industries suffering from rising trade barriers," she said.
Shen stated that China is pursuing a more aggressive stance in trade rather than being dictated to by others, noting that the Foreign Trade Law, in its revision this month, added a new chapter about investigating alleged unfair trade practices, Shen noted.
Trade barriers often rely on technical standards, quarantine, quality inspection and customs procedures, and intellectual property rights protection.
(China Daily April 22, 2004)