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Japan assures U.S. that steel imports will drop.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 Kyodo Japan has tried to assuage Washington's anger over a flood of cheap steel imports -- not by adopting the usual solution of promising specific action but by letting the dispute settle down on an expected improvement in the industry climate. During Tuesday's meeting with top U.S. trade officials, Japanese International Trade and Industry Minister Kaoru Yosano remained noncommittal to U.S. calls for voluntary action to restrict Japanese steel shipments to the United States. The MITI chief instead presented to the U.S. side industry forecasts that Japan's steel exports to the U.S. in fiscal 1999 will decrease close to levels in fiscal 1997, a reduction demanded in the recently released comprehensive U.S. program to save the beleaguered U.S. steel industry. ''I believe that this will allay U.S. concern over the steel imports from Japan,'' Yosano told a news conference after meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky and Commerce Secretary William Daley. The U.S., however, was not convinced by such a forecast alone. At a separate news conference, Daley said the U.S. wants action, not promises, from Japan. ''It does not matter to us what is stated. We are going to monitor the imports and make judgment on our own,'' he said. Barshefsky renewed Washington's readiness to invoke a tough trade provision to restrict imports from Japan if its exports to the U.S. do not decline significantly. In a report detailing the U.S. program, which was submitted to Congress last week, Washington said Tokyo indicated efforts to reduce U.S.-bound steel exports in 1999 to 1997 levels. ''It is our expectation that Japan's exports will return to appropriate pre-crisis levels in 1999,'' the report said. MITI reacted against the report immediately following its release, saying Japan cannot accept any form of voluntary export restraints. That stance remained intact during the day's meeting between Yosano and the two top U.S. trade officials. Yosano said, ''What I conveyed is forecasts of Japanese steel mills and it constitutes neither my promise as MITI chief nor commitments by the government of Japan.'' Japan cannot accept voluntary export restraints as the practice is prohibited under rules set by the World Trade Organization, he said. The MITI chief warned against Washington's moves to remedy the situation with the threat of protectionist steps such as Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974. ''I called on the U.S. government to work together to maintain and strengthen free trade,'' he said. Yosano acknowledged Japan's steel exports to the U.S. increased in 1998 but brushed aside the U.S. industry's allegation that the trend has stemmed from alleged dumping by foreign makers. The industry filed an antidumping suit last fall against hot-rolled sheet imported from Japan and Russia. Barshefsky described Japan's steel shipments to the U.S. as ''well beyond any economically explainable levels.'' But Yosano said real factors behind the rise are robust steel demand in the U.S. and a shortfall of supply capacity of U.S. steel mills. He said the Japanese exports will turn down this year due to a strong yen and an expected decline in U.S. steel demand. Yosano's assessment echoed a view by the Japanese steel industry. The Japan Steel Information Center said the U.S. steel industry's massive campaign against imports is misleading about the performance of the U.S. mills and about the role of imports in the U.S. industry. It insisted U.S. mills have continued operating virtually full capacity. ''Imports did not displace American-made steel but filled the gap between domestic supply and demand,'' the Japanese institute said. Last year, shortages were acute in hot-rolled carbon sheet since U.S. mills diverted a large portion of their increased output of hot-rolled sheet to make higher value-added and more profitable products such as cold-rolled and galvanized sheet, the center said. ''American customers for the lower-priced hot-rolled steel had to seek other sources because of the record level of demand. This provided the impetus for Japan and other new suppliers to meet the demand that traditional domestic and foreign suppliers had no interest in meeting,'' it said. The U.S. program for the domestic steel industry was widely seen as a product that came out of a compromise between Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and Barshefsky. Representing the industry, Barshefsky's agency has been vocal about the need for tougher action like Section 201, which involves imposing higher tariffs to curb imports. But Rubin has expressed what he termed ''reservations'' about strong action, apparently out of fear that such action would send a signal that the U.S. is shutting its markets to cheaper products. The program was disappointing to some lawmakers. Republican Senator Arlen Specter, who chairs the Senate Steel Caucus, a bipartisan group of 33 lawmakers from steel-producing states, called the program totally insufficient. ''They are making a reference to some tax changes, some trade adjustment assistance, they have a small Band Aid on what's really a hemorrhage,'' he said.
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Comment:Japan assures U.S. that steel imports will drop.
Publication:Japan Weekly Monitor
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Jan 18, 1999
Words:840
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