Japan on Friday said it has taken retaliatory action against US tariffs on steel imports, marking the first time Tokyo has taken such steps in a trade dispute.

"Today, we officially informed the World Trade Organisation (WTO) of our planned countermeasures against the US tariffs," said a government trade official. Under the measures, Japan will impose 100 percent tariffs worth $4.88 million dollars a year on certain US steel products from June 18. If the US tariffs are proved to be against WTO rules, the penalties would expand to $ 123.43 million.

But the action would be averted if the two nations can settle the matter by then, officials said.

US President George W Bush announced in March he was applying tariffs of up to 30 per cent on most steel imports to protect the ailing US steel industry, prompting Tokyo to lodge a complaint with the global trade body. It also triggered protests from the European Union, South Korea and other nations.

Under WTO rules, Friday was the deadline for those countries to submit a list of retaliatory measures as they have to notify them within 60 days of the US measures. Tokyo also plans to ask the WTO to set up a dispute-settlement panel after May 20. The Japanese move came after its trade minister Takeo Hiranuma failed to come up with a solution during a telephone conversation with US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick early on Thursday.

Hiranuma was in Paris to attend a meeting of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The European Commission said on Tuesday that it had lodged with the WTO two lists of US products it plans to hit with retaliatory tariffs in response to the US tariffs on foreign steel.