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Trade minister Takeo Hiranuma said Tuesday he is worried that a reported plan by the European Union to join the United States in curbing steel imports will hinder the world’s free-trade regime.

“If every country invokes safeguard measures against each other, that will disturb the market,” he said. “An abuse will have negative effects on the world’s free-trade system.”

In 2001, Japan imposed temporary safeguard measures on stone leeks, shiitake and rushes used to make tatami mats in order to protect domestic producers.

The EU is poised to impose safeguard import curbs on 15 steel products to prevent a flood of imports from damaging its steel industry in the wake of import curbs imposed last week by the U.S., European Commission sources said Monday.

Hiranuma said he asked EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy by telephone Monday to comply with the rules of the World Trade Organization if it takes this action.

The Geneva-based WTO permits member countries to impose the safeguard mechanism if a domestic industry is threatened by a surge in imports. The EU fears a flood of steel products into its market following the U.S. step.

Japan and the EU say the U.S. measure, featuring tariffs of up to 30 percent, contravenes WTO rules, citing reasons such as a recent decline in U.S. steel imports.

Hiranuma refrained from commenting on what impact the planned European maneuver would have on the Japan-EU alliance.

Hiranuma said he holds little hope of the U.S. lowering tariffs on other Japanese exports to compensate Japan for the damage incurred by the curbs, noting that no such compensation has been paid in the past.

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