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Japan is considering the imposition of “re-balancing tariffs” of 100 percent on steel imports from the United States as a countermeasure against U.S. import curbs on steel products, a senior trade official said Wednesday.

If realized, the retaliatory action would be the first ever taken by Japan in any trade row.

Several officials from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry acknowledged that such a retaliatory measure was under consideration.

One official said that while various figures were being mulled, 100 percent would be the “easiest to understand.” The official did not elaborate.

The government calculates that retaliatory tariffs of 100 percent would amount to some $5 million in the initial year.

The re-balancing tariffs could put a damper on U.S. exports to Japan. In 2001, the U.S. exported $182.5 million worth of steel products to Japan, while Japan exported $1.8 billion worth to the U.S., according to the Japan Iron and Steel Federation.

Tokyo is required to notify the World Trade Organization by May 17 on any action it intends to take.

But even after giving notification, Japan would continue negotiating with the U.S. to solve the issue, according to the METI officials. Talks would likely continue until June 17, the deadline for countries affected by the U.S. safeguard tariffs to take countermeasures.

The United States imposed emergency import tariffs of up to 30 percent on its steel imports on March 20. The tariffs are to curb what it called the adverse effect the influx was having on U.S. steelmakers. Japan has been demanding that Washington drop the levies or offer compensation by reducing tariffs on other Japanese imports.

Japan has also been considering imposing retaliatory tariffs on U.S. imports as a way to re-balance import tariffs between the two countries, should the U.S. not offer any compensation.

The U.S. has so far been critical of Tokyo’s hints of retaliation, saying that taking unilateral action would violate WTO rules; Japan insists that it is entitled to retaliate under WTO rules.

METI chief Takeo Hiranuma and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick are slated to meet again to discuss the issue next week in Paris on the sidelines of an annual conference of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The meeting is widely seen as the last chance for the two countries to resolve the matter without entering a into a string of retaliatory measures.

In meetings last week in Washington, the two sides were unable to bridge the gap over Japan’s demand that the U.S. compensate it by lowering tariffs on other Japanese exports. Tokyo has warned it will retaliate without such compensation.

The hefty U.S. tariffs of up to 30 percent have prompted Japan, the European Union and other steel-exporting countries to file complaints with the Geneva-based world trade watchdog.

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