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Trade minister Takeo Hiranuma said Tuesday that he plans to file a complaint today with the World Trade Organization against a U.S. move to invoke import curbs on steel products.

Tokyo will officially file the complaint with the WTO after the U.S. action takes effect today local time, Hiranuma told reporters Tuesday, adding the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is still weighing the option of retaliating against the U.S.

Earlier this month, the U.S. revealed its plans to impose import tariffs of up to 30 percent on certain steel products to protect the struggling U.S. steel industry. It said it would implement the curbs as a safeguard measure under WTO trade rules.

In response, Japan plans to bring the case to the WTO, entering a dispute settlement procedure.

Japan claims the U.S. action does not meet the requirements for safeguard measures under the WTO. During bilateral consultations held last week in Washington, the two countries failed to narrow their divisions on the issue.

The European Union has filed a similar complaint with the WTO against the U.S.

Third-party presence

GENEVA (Kyodo) Japan has asked for third-party participation in a dispute-settlement case filed March 7 by the European Union with the World Trade Organization over the U.S. decision to impose hefty safeguard tariffs on steel imports, a trade source said Monday.

The move adds to growing international countermeasures taken against Washington under a two-pronged approach — seeking compensation through bilateral talks under the WTO Agreement on Safeguards, and lodging complaints with the dispute-settlement body of the Geneva-based world trade watchdog.

A letter filed by Tokyo says Japan, as a major steel exporter to the U.S., has “substantial trade interests” in the case involving the EU and the United States, the source said.

Switzerland has also asked for participation as a third party in the case.

Under WTO rules, member countries are entitled to take part in dispute-settlement procedures as third parties with observer status if relevant issues affect their trade policies — even though they are not directly involved in the dispute.

Japan has already started bilateral talks with the U.S. under the safeguard agreement, and plans to take other measures — including filing a complaint with the WTO dispute-settlement body and levying retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports — if Washington goes ahead and introduces the heavy tariffs as scheduled Wednesday.

On March 5, U.S. President George W. Bush announced that his administration will impose three-year tariffs ranging from 8 percent to 30 percent on an array of steel imports in a bid to protect the struggling U.S. steel industry.

In working-level talks Thursday in Washington, the two nations failed to narrow their gap, with the U.S. rejecting Japan’s demand that it scrap tariffs on seven Japanese products, including video cameras and wrist watches, as compensation for the safeguard measure.

The WTO safeguard agreement allows affected countries to seek “any adequate means of trade compensation” for the damage caused to their trade from the import curbs.

Japan estimates the potential losses to its steelmakers at $168.94 million.

If compensation, in the form of lowered tariffs on other imports, is refused, concerned WTO members may impose retaliatory tariffs or file a case with the WTO, according to Japanese officials.

Tokyo believes the recent decline in U.S. steel imports warrants its raising tariffs concurrently with the U.S. measure, as well as taking the issue to the WTO, they said.

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