Countries around the world criticized the US decision to impose punitive tariffs on steel imports, with Japan and South Korea saying Wednesday they may join the EU in complaining to the WTO.
US President George W. Bush slapped punishing tariffs of up to 30 percent on several types of imported steel in an effort to help the ailing US industry. The nations hardest hit by the tariffs include China, Japan, South Korea, Ukraine and Russia.
"We doubt whether the United States is sustaining any grave damage to the extent that will justify the invocation of safeguards," Japan's trade minister Takeo Hiranuma said yesterday.
Hiranuma said Japan may file a complaint with the WTO, the international organization the governs global trade. His comments echoed those of EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, who said Europe was moving forward with such action.
``The US decision to go down the route of protectionism is a major setback for the world trading system,'' Lamy said after the decision.
The South Korea Foreign Ministry said yesterday it will use "all possible means" to fight the US tariffs, which it said would have "considerable impact" on steel exports.
The world's No. 6 steelmaker said it would join the EU in an appeal to the WTO. South Korea exported 14.6 million tons in 2001, of which 2 million tons went to the US. In Moscow, Russia's Foreign Ministry summoned US Ambassador Alexander Vershbow to express concern about threatened US sanctions on Russian steel imports as punishment for alleged dumping.
Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile and New Zealand Trade Minister Jim Sutton were also critical.
Vaile said he was considering filing a WTO complaint, while Sutton said he was looking into further steps, including whether the tariffs were consistent under international law.
Australia exports about 800,000 tonnes of steel to the US each year, mostly from BHP Billiton. BHP NZ Steel, a subsidiary of BHP Billiton, exports close to 80,000 tonnes of steel to the US a year.
Bush's decision drew a similar protest from Brazil.
"We have been an indiscriminate and unfair victim of the United States," said Jose Alfredo Graca Lima, a top Brazilian trade negotiator. Last year, Brazil exported US$726 million worth of steel product to the US. Trade Minister Sergio Amaral said Brazil may turn to the WTO for a ruling on the tariffs.
Some countries noted that US steel imports from the rest of the world have been declining.
Japan said that its steel exports are centered around products that US steelmakers don't produce. Last year, Japan's steel exports to the US market totaled 2.2 million tonnes, about 8 percent of the 27.35 million tonnes imported by the US, according to the Japanese government.
Calling Bush's move "shortsighted," Lamy said the EU would "set the wheels in motion" to launch a WTO panel, which would rule on the legality of the tariffs and could authorize retaliatory measures. The EU argues that US steel imports fell nearly a quarter last year to below the levels of 1995 and 1996, while EU imports are three times what they were in the 1990s.