Trade minister Takeo Hiranuma has reconfirmed that he will make joint efforts with the European Union to fight U.S. import curbs on steel products, a ministry official said Tuesday.

In a 45-minute telephone conversation with EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, Hiranuma explained that Tokyo may take retaliatory action if the United States does not take measures to compensate Japan.

Lamy said the EU is in a similar position, the official said. The EU representative is expected to meet soon with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick over the steel issue.

In a meeting with Zoellick in Tokyo last week, Hiranuma, the Economy, Trade and Industry minister, demanded the U.S. drop the steel curbs, saying they violate the rules of the World Trade Organization. On March 20, the U.S. imposed import tariffs of up to 30 percent on certain products to protect the struggling U.S. steel industry.

Hiranuma and Lamy also agreed to facilitate trade liberalization talks under the WTO, after Lamy pointed out the slow pace of the current multilateral trade talks, the ministry official said.

JETRO looks to China

The semigovernmental Japan External Trade Organization said Tuesday it will send a 70-member mission to China beginning May 26 to explore new business opportunities in inland areas and small and midsize cities on the coast.

The group, consisting mainly of heads of small and midsize companies, will visit Weihai in Shangdong Province, Beijing, Chongqing, and Chengdu in Sichuan Province, and will return on June 1, JETRO said in a news release.

JETRO Chairman Noboru Hatakeyama will lead the mission, which is to visit industrial complexes in the major western cities of Chongqing and Chengdu as well as Japanese companies investing there.

It plans to do the same in Weihai, a coastal city that attracts investment from South Korea, JETRO said.

In Beijing, the mission plans to hold talks with Chinese leaders, it added.

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