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LEAD: Japan files WTO complaint against EU for 1st time+
[May 28, 2008]

LEAD: Japan files WTO complaint against EU for 1st time+

(Japan Economic Newswire Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) TOKYO, May 28_(Kyodo) _ (EDS: ADDING DETAILS)

Japan took legal action Wednesday against the European Union for the first time under World Trade Organization rules, saying EU tariffs on multi-function printers, computer monitors and cable television converters are unfairly high, Japanese officials said.

This is the first time that Japan has filed a complaint with the WTO since 2004, the officials said.

The United States on the same day also brought the case against the European Union to the Geneva-based organization, the officials said.

The trade dispute centers on the interpretation of the WTO's Information Technology Agreement, under which duties on high-tech products having connections to computers are completely eliminated with some limited exceptions.

Currently, the European Union imposes a tariff of 6 percent on printers with other capabilities, such as copying, faxing and scanning, as it regards them as copiers, which are outside the scope of the 1996 IT agreement.

Japan and the United States claim that multi-functional printers should be regarded as IT products as they are accessible by personal computers.

Japan and the United States have set the tariff rate at zero percent on printers with multiple functions. Printers, fax machines and scanners are included in the items subject to the IT accord. The European Union also levies no duties on these products.

"It is true that such printers were not in the market when the accord was concluded in 1996. But it is very apparent that we use them as printers rather than copy machines," a Japanese industry ministry official said.

The trade value of multi-functional printers exported by Japanese makers to the 27-nation European bloc in 2006 amounted to about 295 billion yen, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Japanese companies hardly export the other products -- flat-screen computer displays and cable television set-top boxes -- to the EU market, according to the ministry.

The European Union imposes a 14-percent duty on computer displays, contending that they have electric-appliance functions as well these days, such as showing videos and television programs.

As for cable television converters, the European Union treats them as video players and levies a tariff of 13.9 percent.

Even after the complaint, Japan and the European Union may be able to settle the dispute through "out of court" bilateral negotiations.

But if that fails, a WTO dispute-settlement panel will be established around September or later, and the whole legal process is expected to run for about one year, according to the ministry.

Strong requests from Japanese and U.S. industry communities prompted Tokyo and Washington officials to address the issue.

"We have engaged in talks with our European counterparts in the past couple of years, but no tangible progress has been made," the ministry official said. "So we decided to take the latest action."

Japan and the United States are asking other countries to join in the WTO legal action, the officials said.

Japan has filed a total of 12 complaints at the WTO, set up in 1995, which now has about 150 members, accounting for over 97 percent of global trade.

Of the 12, eight were in connection with Japan's trade conflicts with the United States.

Copyright ? 2008 Kyodo News International, Inc.

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