• Kyodo

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The United States on Tuesday defended safeguard emergency import restriction measures to protect domestic steelmakers and voiced readiness to take similar action in other sectors if necessary.

In an annual trade policy report, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative also urged Japan to accelerate deregulation while welcoming Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s reform initiatives.

Despite strong criticism from Washington’s trading partners against high tariffs on steel imports to rescue the ailing U.S. steel industry, the USTR stressed the legitimacy of such safeguard measures.

“We will continue our commitment to the effective use of statutory safeguards, consistent with WTO (World Trade Organization) rules, to assist American producers,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said in the report submitted to Congress.

“Used properly, these safeguards — for example, Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974 — can give producers vital breathing space while they restructure and regain competitiveness,” he said.

Under Section 201, President George W. Bush announced earlier this month that his administration will impose three-year tariffs of up to 30 percent on a range of steel imports from Japan and other countries, effective Wednesday.

WTO rules allow a member country to launch a safeguard mechanism designed to slow imports to allow a specific industry to adjust to heightened competition from foreign suppliers.

Major U.S. trading partners, including Japan and the European Union, doubt whether damage to the U.S. caused by steel imports is serious enough to justify the safeguard measures.

On Japan, the report says the U.S. has been encouraged by positive trends in corporate restructuring and Koizumi’s determination to “promptly and swiftly” carry out deregulation.

The USTR, however, voiced dissatisfaction with the pace of the deregulation. “The Japanese economy continues to underperform largely as a result of structural rigidities, excessive regulation and market barriers,” it said.

The report also welcomes the U.S.-Japan Economic Partnership for Growth initiative launched by Koizumi and Bush last June to promote growth in both countries by addressing such issues as macroeconomic policies, deregulation and market-opening measures.

“A key feature woven into the various components of the Partnership is the opportunity for the U.S. and Japanese private sectors to be more fully integrated in our bilateral economic work,” it says.

The report also praises the creation of the Automotive Consultative Group in June to discuss issues, including greater access of U.S. companies to the Japanese automotive market.

The report says the U.S. will closely monitor China and Taiwan, which became members of the Geneva-based trade body in December, on their compliance with WTO rules.

In the report, Zoellick said the administration will give priority to gaining prompt congressional approval of a bill to give Bush greater authority to negotiate new trade pacts.

The so-called fast-track trade legislation would allow the White House to negotiate trade agreements that Congress can approve or reject, but not change.

Zoellick called for active U.S. involvement in regional and bilateral free-trade agreements. “In recent years, when the rules of trade have been set, the United States has frequently not been at the negotiating table.”

He stressed the need for the U.S. to redouble efforts to create a free-trade area throughout the Americas by 2005 and promote negotiations for the conclusions of free-trade pacts with Singapore and Chile during 2002.

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