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By Tom Miles
GENEVA, Dec 8 (Reuters) - Turkish electronics and domestic appliances maker Vestel has asked the government to impose emergency import tariffs on mobile phones, according to a filing from Turkey published by the World Trade Organization on Monday.
Such “safeguard tariffs” are permitted if a country can show that a surge in imports is damaging domestic producers, but they may be challenged by other WTO members. Turkey said in the filing that it would examine the case and invited interested parties to apply to have their comments taken into account.
They have 20 days to do so from Dec. 5, the date of Turkey’s official announcement that it would study Vestel’s request.
Vestel’s is the first petition in WTO history for safeguard duties on mobile phones. Most safeguard duties take aim at commodities such as steel products, farm products or clothing.
But some trade experts say that governments are increasingly using safeguards as part of a trend towards “stealth protectionism” - fostering economic growth by blocking foreign competition without falling foul of the WTO rules.
Vestel, best known for its televisions, fridges and washing machines, launched its own smartphone at the IFA electronics fair in Berlin in September, running Google’s Android operating system.
Turkey imposes strict controls on mobile phones imported by individuals, blocking handsets not purchased in the country from using a local Turkish SIM unless they are registered and a tax paid.
Vestel’s petition to the government said the value of mobile phone imports into Turkey had risen from $1.1 billion in 2009 to $2.7 billion in 2013, with 99.9 percent of imports coming from China, Vietnam, South Korea, India or Taiwan in 2014.
“A safeguard measure should be implemented against mobile phone imports in order to eliminate negative impacts and serious harm on the domestic economic indicators,” its petition said.
Its request was supported by firms representing a majority of Turkish mobile phone production, Vestel said. (Reporting by Tom Miles, additional reporting by Nick Tattersall in Istanbul; editing by Ralph Boulton)