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Japan on Friday requested a meeting with China to discuss that country’s provisional import curbs on steel products, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Trade minister Takeo Hiranuma expressed concern that China’s move might add to a wave of global protectionism.

China’s half-year import curbs on nine steel products took effect Friday. The restrictions are designed to safeguard the domestic steel industry from an increase in imports.

Under a quota system, China will continue to apply standard tariffs to steel imports until a certain volume is reached, at which time additional tariffs ranging between 7 percent and 26 percent will be used.

In the proposed meeting with China, Japan will demand to see “clear evidence,” as required under World Trade Organization rules, that the increase in steel imports has caused serious damage to domestic producers, a ministry official said.

“While steel imports to China increased in 2001, domestic production in China also grew,” the official said. “Therefore, we do not believe (that the import growth damaged domestic producers).”

Earlier in the day, Hiranuma said: “We can’t help but saying that China’s action is a part of a chain reaction that was triggered by the U.S. safeguard measure. We are very concerned that pressure for protectionism is rising.”

After the United States imposed import curbs on steel products in March, the European Union invoked provisional import curbs to prevent steel products diverted from the U.S. from flooding into Europe.

Hiranuma said China’s action may result in about 300,000 tons of Japanese steel being slapped with additional import tariffs, based on 2001 figures. China is the second largest importer of Japanese steel.

The ministry official said, however, that it is difficult to assess the impact of China’s action, as the details remain unclear.

In 2001, Japan exported 4.57 million tons of steel and steel products to China, or 15 percent of Japan’s total steel exports, according to customs clearance statistics.

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