UPPING THE ANTE: The Japanese government has finalized a list of 310 products — including 43 textile- and apparel-related items — on which tariffs will be raised in the event of a refusal by the U.S. to withdraw its safeguard restrictions on steel imports.

The list, approved by the Council on Customs, Tariffs, Foreign Exchange and Other Transactions of the Finance Ministry, has been forwarded to the World Trade Organization, said Shoichi Nakagawa, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry.

The Japanese plan would impose 5 percent extra duty on imports of U.S. textile products — 16 knit apparel items such as shirts, blouses and polo shirts, and 19 woven apparel items including jackets, pants and skirts, according to Japanese officials. The list also extends to such items as leather clothing, handbags and travel bags.

Other products slated for a 5 percent increase in duty include vacuum cleaners, TV sets, sunglasses, bedding, prefabricated houses and plastic toys.

The plan calls for a 30 percent increase in duty on American steel, steel products, gold, mineral fuels such as coal and volatile oil, plastic items such as polyethylene sheets and bags, and rubber or plastic molding dies.

The list was determined from among the product categories for which the share of imports from the U.S. is less than 10 percent, so that the impact of the possible action on the Japanese economy will be minimized,government officials said.

Japanese officials emphasized that the invocation of the measures hinges on the U.S., which currently imposes safeguard tariffs of between 7 percent and 24 percent on steel imports, compared with a Japanese levy of zero to 3.3 percent. The WTO ruled against the U.S. practice on Nov. 10, they noted. As reported, the WTO has given the U.S. government until Dec. 15 to lift the safeguards or face retaliatory action.

The tariff increases planned by Tokyo would amount to $97.2 million, or 10.7 billion yen, per year at current exchange. —Tsukasa Furukawa

RIDING IN:
Itochu Corp., the Japanese trading company, has signed two major licensing agreements to build sales of the Pony athletic brand and of Guy Laroche’s second line, Guy Laroche/Laroche, in Japan.Itochu has established a wholly owned subsidiary, Pony Japan Inc., in Tokyo following the conclusion of a licensing agreement with the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Pony International LLC., and an Itochu subsidiary of Itochu International Inc.

The agreement gives Itochu the exclusive rights to import and sell Pony footwear and to produce and sell Pony-branded apparel and accessories in Japan. Itochu will begin with Pony footwear in February, followed by Pony-branded apparel, hats, hosiery and other products, including children’s wear, in fall 2004.

First-year sales of footwear, apparel and all other items are projected at $18.2 million, or 2 billion yen, at retail with a goal of tripling sales to $54.5 million, or 6 billion yen, in the third year and to $91 million, or 10 billion yen, in the fifth year, Itochu said. The dollar value is converted from the yen at current exchange.

The apparel line for Japan is expected to include T-shirts, which will retail from $26.36 to $44.55 (2,900 to 4,900 yen); jackets from $110 (12,800 yen); pants from $52.73 to $98.18 (5,800 to 10,800 yen); hats from $26.36 to $40.90 (2,900 to 4,500 yen), and hosiery from $7.27 to $13.64 (800 to 1,500 yen), according to Itochu. Footwear will range in price from $50 to $154.55, or 5,500 to 17,000 yen.

In the other development, Itochu has signed an agreement to become the master licensee in Japan of Guy Laroche/Laroche.

The first line from the French design house, Guy Laroche is already sold in Japan in department stores and specialty stores through a dozen Japanese licensees. The second line to be rolled out in Japan will be distinct in taste from the first line, Itochu said, noting that it will be positioned as a new line of casual wear backboned by Guy Laroche’s name, expertise and creativity.

The new line will be launched in spring/summer 2004 offering a range of merchandise, including men’s casualwear, bags, shoes, shirts, neckties, socks, stockings, mufflers, optical frames, sunglasses and other accessories, Itochu explained.

Main outlets will be general merchandise stores, specialty stores, suburban shopping centers and shopping malls, with sales in the first year projected at $22.7 million, or 2.5 billion yen, at retail with a goal of bringing it up to $91.1 million, or 10 billion yen, Itochu said. — T.F.UP AT LAST: Sales of Japan’s department stores in October increased for the first time since March 2002, according to the Japan Department Stores Association. Total sales of the nation's 288 department stores rose 0.2 percent to $6.14 billion, or 675.7 billion yen, at the same-store level compared with a year ago “due to a cool-down of the temperature and effective renovation and sales promotion,” said the association, although in Tokyo total sales of the 28 department stores dropped 2.7 percent to $1.51 billion, or 166.4 billion yen, the 23rd decline in a row. Dollar figures were converted at current exchange.

Total department store sales of apparel throughout Japan increased 1.6 percent, with sales of men's wear rising 4.7 percent, and sales of women's wear increasing 1.5 percent.Casual items, including coats and jackets, sold particularly well.

Sales of the nation's 9,002 national chain stores rose 0.6 percent at the same-store level to $11.05 billion (1.22 trillion yen) in October compared with a year earlier. Apparel sales increased 9.8 percent to $1.71 billion (188.31 billion yen). — Koji Hirano

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