• Kyodo

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Ryozo Kato, Japan’s ambassador to the U.S., expressed concern Tuesday over a bill two senators proposed last week to open up the Japanese and South Korean markets for automobiles and auto parts.

“Of course, the Japanese Embassy will ask the U.S. government (to oppose the bill) and convey its concerns,” Kato said at a news conference. “I believe the U.S. government has a similar feeling.”

The bill, introduced by Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, and George Voinovich, an Ohio Republican, said the principal negotiating goal of the U.S. in the automotive sector is to increase market access for U.S. vehicles and parts in foreign markets, especially Japan and South Korea.

It would call on the U.S. government to negotiate market-opening agreements with any member country of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development where imported cars make up less than 10 percent of the market.

The Paris-based OECD consists of 30 advanced countries, including Japan and South Korea.

According to the Japan Automobile Association, foreign cars accounted for 8.8 percent of the overall Japanese automobile market in fiscal 2001.

The bill, proposed in the form of an amendment to legislation for the renewal of the 1991 U.S. Andean Trade Preference Act, is expected to be voted on this week.

Plea from Zoellick

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick asked Japan and the European Union on Tuesday not to take retaliatory action for new U.S. steel tariffs aimed at helping the ailing American steel industry.

“We believe that any action has to be taken within the WTO decision-making framework, and therefore unilateral action will be counterproductive,” Zoellick said after a World Economic Forum conference in Washington.

In March, the United States slapped three-year tariffs of up to 30 percent on an array of steel imports to rescue the beleaguered domestic steel industry. Japan and the EU notified the World Trade Organization last week of their plans to impose 100 percent retaliatory tariffs on certain U.S. goods.

The conference was sponsored by the Geneva-based forum of world business leaders. EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, who joined the meeting via satellite, voiced concerns that the U.S. import curb could provoke protectionism around the world and adversely affect the multilateral trading system under the WTO.

Lamy said Washington’s arbitrary interpretation of WTO rules for safeguard tariffs could result in the abuse of emergency import restrictions by other countries.

WTO rules allow the imposition of temporary tariffs as a safeguard measure when industries in a member country suffer a sudden surge in imports.

The U.S. is arguing that its steel import curb is consistent with the WTO rules. Japan and the EU insist damage from imports to the U.S. steel industry is too insubstantial to justify the emergency import restriction measure.

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