Japan's decision to join the complaint, after initially declining to do so, comes as it tries to find a path through a diplomatic minefield.
The U.S. and EU governments filed the WTO complaint on March 30 after months of informal talks failed to resolve the dispute. Japan's failure to join the complaint at that time had frustrated U.S. and EU trade negotiators, who had hoped for the extra pressure of a united front.
Some Europeans felt that Japan was hoping for a risk-free win. It would benefit from any reduction in tariffs due to the U.S.-EU complaint without itself angering the Chinese government. That, in turn, was seen as damaging to Toyota's application to join ACEA, the European carmakers' association.
The Chinese government had put enormous pressure on automotive joint ventures between foreign and Chinese carmakers to lobby their governments to head off the complaint, industry sources say.
Imports account for only a small portion of China's estimated $19 billion auto parts market. U.S. exports of auto parts to China totaled $529.8 million in 2005, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission.
Under WTO rules, the March 30 filing launched a 60-day period during which the parties are to convene formal talks on the dispute. If they cannot reach agreement, the case then moves to a second phase. The U.S., EU and now Japan would have the right to take actions that could result in penalties, such as special tariffs, against China.
"The Japanese government is very much concerned about the above policy and we have notified our request on the 11th of April to the WTO and to the EC nations as well as the United States that they accept Japan as a third-party" participant in the complaint, Tomohiko Taniguchi said Thursday. He is deputy press secretary at Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His comment came during an Internet-chat press conference in response to a question from Automotive News.
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