Views differ on effect of US tariffs but specter of past trade war looms large
Though Japan is not exempted from US President Donald Trump's new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, the Japanese government and steel industry have responded with restraint.
Several Japanese ministers called the measures "regrettable" on March 23 when the tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on imported aluminum went into effect.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Washington in mid-April to ask for an exemption, while Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko said Japan will continue to "patiently" press its case.
The Trump administration has granted initial exemptions to the European Union and other allies. The EU threatened countermeasures if its steel and aluminum are on the list.
Some Japanese officials and experts believe the new tariffs will have limited impact on Japanese companies.
Japan exported about 1.9 million tons of steel products to the United States in 2017, about 2 percent of Japan's total crude steel production that stood at some 100 million tons.
Japanese officials and scholars say their country's high-q[MG_SEO]uality products, such as steel stock for railway tracks or automobile bodies and pipes for oilfield development, are irreplaceable in the US market.
But some economists believe that as the US reduces steel and aluminum imports, the supply to the world market will increase and steel prices will decline. Even if Japan were exempted from the new tariffs, Japanese steel industry would suffer a great loss.
At the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's annual conference on March 25, Sadayuki Sakakibara, chairman of Japan Business Federation, or Keidanren, said he is concerned that the Trump administration's protectionist policy could lead to a trade war.
The US side argues that the import of cheap steel is pushing its military-related industries toward decline, and therefore putting US national security at risk. The World Trade Organization, however, recognizes such an argument only in limited cases, such as when a country is in the midst of a military contingency.