• The Associated Press


The government is investigating whether to impose punitive import taxes on computer chips made by Hynix Semiconductor Inc. of South Korea after receiving complaints from Japanese companies.

Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki said Tuesday there was enough evidence to start a probe by the finance and trade ministries on whether Hynix’s dynamic random access memory chips, or DRAM, are being sold in Japan at unfairly low prices because of subsidies by the South Korean government.

If the government decides on a levy in this case, it would be the first time that Japan has imposed tariffs to counter alleged subsidies by a foreign government. It would also be Japan’s first case of levying such duties on high-technology products.

In June, Elpida Memory Inc. and Micron Japan Ltd., a unit of U.S.-based Micron Technology Inc., asked the government to levy a duty against Hynix because of alleged South Korean government trade subsidies to the semiconductor maker. The investigation must also determine that sales of the cheaper products are hurting domestic companies.

Japanese officials have said that the investigation into the assertions could take up to a year, with a possible six-month extension.

Elpida, which makes memory chips, was formed in 1999 as a joint venture between electronics makers NEC Corp. and Hitachi Ltd.

The U.S. Department of Commerce decided in July 2003, at the request of Micron Technology, to impose a duty of up to 44.7 percent on Hynix DRAM chips imported into the United States.

Last August, the European Union decided to levy a similar duty of up to 34.8 percent on Hynix’s memory products.

In an attempt to overturn these rulings, the South Korean government has filed an appeal with the World Trade Organization.

Seoul-based Hynix has vowed to fight the claims.

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