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The Ministry of International Trade and Industry is closely watching the U.S. steel industry to see whether it will file a suit against Japanese steelmakers for dumping hot rolled steel — a core commodity, a top ministry official said Monday.

Vice MITI Minister Osamu Watanabe’s remarks were made in response to recent media reports that major U.S. steel manufacturers and trade unions agreed last week to file a dumping suit against Nippon Steel Corp. and other major Japanese steel manufacturers. The steel firms are allegedly dumping hot rolled steel products in the U.S. to offset a drop in sales to economically troubled Asia.

As of July, the volume of steel exports from Japan to the U.S. has soared to some 700,000 tons, or about four times more than the same month the previous year, due in part to the the yen’s depreciation against the dollar.

If filed, such a suit would deal a another blow to Japan’s steelmakers, some of which have already tangled with the U.S. over exports of stainless steel materials.

“We have not yet confirmed that the U.S. steel makers will actually file a suit … but we will closely watch such moves from now on,” Watanabe told reporters. “The important thing is that individual companies are obliged to export their products at fair prices and that anti-dumping measures should not be abused in a way to promote protectionism.”

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