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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
Steel makers condemn US 'trade abuse'
US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick
US trade chief Robert Zoellick has defended the tariffs
Nations fighting Washington's decision to impose import tariffs on steel have branded the US a serial abuser of free trade rules.

The 20-state strong protest group, including the 15 European Union (EU) nations, China and Japan, urged the US to drop the tariffs "without delay".

They have to be stopped somehow from just pushing on with actions which they know are against the rules

Asian diplomat
The nations, in Geneva for talks at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) with US officials, warned of heightened action to fight the duties.

The EU will be entitled to request a WTO probe into the tariffs from 6 May, two months after it lodged its initial complaint.

'Systematic abuse'

But while Washington has on six previous occasions been found guilty by the WTO of imposing illegal trade safeguards, the 20 protesting nations expressed disappointment the findings had failed to stop US protectionism.

The US had committed "systematic abuse" of WTO laws, said a statement from the 20 nations.

"They have to be stopped somehow from just pushing on with actions which they know, whatever they say in public, are against the rules," one Asian diplomat said.

Washington has defended the tariffs, of up to 30%, as necessary to defend its ailing steel industry from foreign rivals which have received significant state support.

Lengthy process

The WTO has previously condemned US blocks on trade in goods from wheat to underwear.

But officials have expressed dismay over the length of time WTO investigations take.

The WTO can take up to a year to make a ruling, with appeals then permitted.

Officials from the EU, where steel producers stand to lose $2.4bn a year to the tariffs, fear the US will attempt to drag out the procedure for a long as possible.

While the EU is mulling retaliatory action, the US has said that the introduction of further duties without waiting for a WTO ruling would undermine the organisation's credibility.

The other three protesting nations represented in Geneva were Norway, Switzerland and South Korea.

Five of the countries represented - Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Germany - are, along with the US, members of the important G7 group of leading industrialised nations.

See also:

11 Apr 02 | Business
Global steel trade war hots up
09 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair 'seeks steel tariff deal'
03 Apr 02 | Business
US targets trade partners
27 Mar 02 | Business
EU agrees steel fightback
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