Staff writer Emboldened by a preliminary World Trade Organization ruling that deals a serious setback for Washington’s antidumping policy, Japan is likely to up the ante in an anticipated series of its own legal WTO battles with the United States over steel trade. In an interim report presented to the U.S. and the 15-nation European Union Monday, a dispute-settlement panel of the WTO upheld the EU’s contention that the U.S. Antidumping Act of 1916 is in violation of WTO rules. The old U.S. law allows individual American companies to file a suit with a local court claiming criminal offenses as well as civil damages that could be as high as three times the actual damage from dumping — the practice of selling goods on overseas markets at unfairly low prices. The interim WTO report has not yet been published, but Japanese government sources said they have confirmed a news report of the interim WTO decision. The EU filed a complaint with the WTO over the U.S. Antidumping Act of 1916 after an American steel company filed a suit with a local court in 1996 under the controversial law against a U.S.-based European importer of steel products. The WTO panel will hand down a final ruling on the EU-U.S. dispute early next year. But the final decision is very likely to remain unchanged from the preliminary ruling, although the U.S. can appeal the decision to the Appellate Body, the WTO’s highest court. It is quite rare that the Appellate Body delivers a verdict different from the one handed down by a dispute-settlement panel. Japanese trade officials are jubilant over the latest preliminary WTO ruling because it will set a precedent for a separate WTO battle between Japan and the U.S. over the same American law but also because it may presage an eventual winner in an anticipated series of WTO battles between the two countries over steel trade.

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