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Japan, EU Say US Decision to Lift Steel Tariffs is 'Positive Step' - 2003-12-05

Japan has joined the European Union to welcome a U.S. decision to immediately lift steel tariffs. Japanese officials say they will drop plans for retaliatory sanctions, which could have led to a trade war. South Korea and China also welcomed the move as a positive step for free international trade.

Japanese Trade and Industry Minister Shoichi Nakagawa reacted to the U.S. decision to drop 21-month-old tariffs, which had been imposed to give the American steel industry time to recover from recession.

Mr. Nakagawa says he welcomes the decision by the United States to rescind the tariffs on steel.

Japanese Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki says Tokyo decided not to impose retaliatory tariffs on U.S. imports, following President Bush's decision Thursday.

Japan and the European Union had threatened to impose punitive tariffs totaling more than $2 billion on U.S. products if Washington did not withdraw the steel tariffs this month.

Such a retaliatory move would have been the first by Tokyo against its closest trading partner since the formation of the World Trade Organization in 1995.

The WTO last month, in its final verdict on the matter, ruled that the U.S. steel import taxes violated global trade rules.

The Bush Administration, looking to blunt the impact on the 150,000 American steelworkers after the tariffs are dismantled, has promised to intensify monitoring to avert surges of steel imports.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda on Friday expressed concern about the monitoring, saying Japan hopes that it will not hinder free trade.

The president of the Japan Iron and Steel Federation, Akio Mimura, who is also president of Nippon Steel, says his industry will be scrutinizing the import monitoring system as well.

In addition to Japan and the European Union, South Korea and China also applauded the Bush administration's decision to end tariffs 15 months ahead of schedule.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said Thursday that lifting the tariffs was not linked to the threatened foreign trade sanctions, but based on an evaluation that the U.S. steel industry was on the road to successful restructuring and profitability.

But the president of the United Steelworkers Association, Leo Gerard, said foreign governments had engaged the Bush administration in a game of what he called "guts poker" and he said "instead of telling them to bring it on, the president blinked."