GENEVA - The European Union has requested talks with the U.S. government over antidumping duties that have hit a British steel firm in the first step toward asking the World Trade Organization to condemn the U.S. tariffs, EU officials said Tuesday.
The EU maintains that the United States is breaching the rules of global commerce through its tariffs of almost 126 percent on imports of stainless steel bars made by Firth Rixson Special Steels Ltd.
Washington imposed the duties in March 2002, claiming the company was unfairly dumping cheap goods on the U.S. market.
The EU counters that the move violated international trade law. It claims Washington decided Firth Rixson was dumping its steel without giving the British company sufficient opportunity to prove otherwise.
U.S. diplomats in Geneva said they were reviewing the EU complaint and could not comment immediately.
Brussels' call for formal consultations with Washington over the duties is a warning shot.
Under the rules of the 148-nation WTO, a request for talks is made before members ask the global trade body to establish a panel to rule on perceived breaches.
Members who are targeted by a complaint normally use a procedural move to block the initial request for a panel, but can only do this once. It was not immediately clear when the WTO would consider the EU request, because the EU and United States must hold their formal consultations first.
Disputes over steel imports have been a regular cause of friction between Washington and Brussels throughout the 10-year life of the WTO. Last year the Bush Administration removed "safeguard" duties imposed on imported steel to protect domestic producers after they were declared illegal by the WTO.