Tokyo prices shock US farm official

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The Independent Online
TOKYO (Reuter) - The US Agriculture Secretary, Mike Espy, toured a luxury supermarket in the heart of a fashionable Tokyo shopping district yesterday and called prices 'shocking' and 'incredible'.

'I bought an apple, and it cost me five dollars,' Mr Espy told reporters before reiterating his call for Japan to open up to cheaper imported food. 'I don't know of any dollars 5- apple in the US' said Mr Espy, strolling past 21,000- yen ( pounds 130) melons and a single, 8,000-yen Matsutake mushroom in the Kinokuniya supermarket, in Tokyo's Aoyama district, took notes as he calculated the dollar equivalent to the price tags.

For his benefit, a placard had been put up on the melon shelf that read: 'Welcome Mr Secretary] I am a Japanese melon. Do you think I'm expensive?' 'I say yes,' Mr Espy said emphatically. 'It's incredible.'

Mr Espy, who arrived on Sunday, met the Japanese Agriculture Minister, Eijiro Hata, on Monday and urged Tokyo to drop its blanket ban on foreign rice imports, which it argues is a matter of national food security. Japan's rice ban is among the issues stalling the current round of Gatt trade talks.

'There should be free and open trade on a worldwide basis, based on reduction of tariffs and market access at reasonable prices, so that people can get the food they need,' Mr Espy said. 'That was my message to Mr Hata.'