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Trade minister Takeo Hiranuma said Tuesday he will urge the United States to drop its emergency tariffs on a range of steel imports in a meeting Thursday with visiting U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick.

“We will make our point clear, as we think the U.S. measure is very problematic in view of the rules of the World Trade Organization,” the minister of economy, trade, and industry said at a news conference.

If the two sides fail to narrow the gap in the bilateral talks as well as at the meeting in Geneva under the WTO dispute-settlement system also slated for Thursday, Japan will consider options including retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports, Hiranuma said.

“We will respond on the basis of the options, taking into account the U.S. attitude and development under Article 22” of the WTO accord under which Japan, the European Union, South Korea, China, Switzerland and Norway will challenge the U.S. tariffs.

The Geneva meeting will be the first chance for the six steel-exporting WTO members to contest the safeguard tariffs of up to 30 percent the U.S. levied last month to rescue struggling U.S. steelmakers.

Hiranuma said he also plans to discuss with Zoellick how to proceed with the three-year trade round that WTO members launched in November, including issues that are important to Japan, such as a review of antidumping rules and creation of investment rules.

Zoellick is to arrive in Japan on Thursday, his first visit to the country since President George W. Bush was inaugurated in January 2001.

Iran gets oil entreaty

Trade minister Takeo Hiranuma on Tuesday called on Iran to refrain from joining Iraq in suspending oil exports in protest of Israel’s incursion into Palestinian areas of the West Bank.

“We should urge Iran, which has an influence over the world’s stable oil supply, to refrain from (such a move),” Hiranuma said. “But we don’t believe Iran would take such an extreme step.”

Hiranuma said the impact of Iraq’s decision will be limited because Japan imports 0.1 percent of its crude oil from the country.

On Monday, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein announced an immediate monthlong suspension of all Iraqi oil exports to protest Israel’s military offensive, halting 2 million barrels a day, or some 4 percent of international oil supplies.

“We are concerned speculators’ overreaction will affect the market,” Hiranuma said, “but don’t expect crude oil prices to jump without limit.”

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