TOKYO -- The Japanese government said Thursday it has asked the World Trade Organization to form a panel to resolve a dispute over Indian safeguard duties on steel products, aiming to highlight Tokyo's stance favoring free trade amid growing global protectionism.
Safeguards are temporary tariff hikes intended to protect domestic industry from unexpected increases in imports. The WTO holds that members have the right to enact such measures if they can clearly establish that the imports in question have caused harm.
India installed tariffs as high as 20% in September 2015 on hot-rolled coil steel, used in applications such as automobiles and appliances. Japanese exports of the material to India plunged from 56.8 billion yen ($494 million at current rates) in 2015 to 20.1 billion yen in 2016.
Japan turned to the WTO after bilateral talks last month failed to yield results. A panel of lawyers and other experts from neutral countries likely will be set up in mid-April.
Tokyo hopes the move will help stem a rising tide of protectionism. More safeguard duties have cropped up worldwide, and U.S. President Donald Trump -- who has vowed to protect domestic industry -- recently said Washington will disregard WTO rulings if necessary.