Japan making tariff list, checking it twice

U.S. told to 'act like an adult' in face of retaliation over steel penalties

by Tomoko Otake

Japan inched closer to a showdown with the U.S. over steel trade Wednesday, releasing a list of American goods it plans to raise tariffs on in retaliation for ongoing U.S. “safeguard” restrictions on steel imports.

The Finance Ministry’s Council on Customs, Tariffs, Foreign Exchange and Other Transactions endorsed plans to impose additional tariffs of 30 percent on U.S. steel and related products unless the U.S. complies with a recent ruling by the World Trade Organization and lifts the import curbs, said Masahiko Hara, director of the ministry’s trade policy and legal division.

The WTO ruled Nov. 10 that the tariffs violate principles of international trade, clearing the way for retaliatory steps by Japan, the EU and six other WTO members.

Japan immediately notified the WTO of the planned measures, making it possible to take action by the end of the year, government officials said.

But officials said that a final decision on whether to invoke the measures hinges on the U.S. They urged the U.S. to retract the safeguard tariffs of between 7 percent and 24 percent that were introduced in March 2002 to protect its battered steel industry.

Japan currently levies tariffs of between zero and 3.3 percent on steel products.

Planned tariff increases also cover U.S. leather and clothes, which will see tariffs increase by 5 percent.

“‘We have incurred real damages,” trade minister Shoichi Nakagawa told a meeting in Tokyo of working and retired journalists earlier in the day. “We are not in a tit-for-tat (trade) war, but (I hope) the U.S. will act like an adult in dealing with the situation as it is our most important friend.”

Tokyo’s penalties would amount to $85.2 million a year, roughly equal to the financial damages suffered by Japanese steel producers from the U.S. measures, according to the finance ministry.