TOKYO, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Kobe Steel, Japan's third-biggest steelmaker, said it aimed to expand its automotive aluminium panel business in China through a joint venture with China Baowu Steel Group as a shift to electric vehicles drives demand for new cars.

China Baowu, the world's largest steelmaker, via a unit, has agreed to proceed with feasibility study to form a joint venture with Kobe Steel's local unit, the Japanese company said on Monday, with an aim to set up the business this year.

The deal would allow Kobe Steel to benefit from a forecast 3% annual rise in automobile production in China annually through 2030 due to a shift to EVs, the Japanese company said.

China Baowu said on its WeChat account on Friday that it intended to build an automotive aluminium sheet joint venture with Kobe Steel to accelerate the trend toward lightweight materials in the auto industry.

China is Japan's biggest trading partner but relations between the two major economies have not always been easy. China last year banned imports of seafood from Japan following start of release of treated water from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant.

China's BYD overtook Tesla as the world's biggest EV maker in the fourth quarter of last year, and major U.S. and European auto manufacturers are pushing hard to cut costs under pressure from Chinese competitors.

Kobe Steel's announcement comes as the Biden administration is examining rival Nippon Steel's China connections in relation to its planned acquisition of American rival U.S. Steel , according to media reports.

The Biden administration sees protecting the U.S. industry as its priority and is worried about Nippon Steel's exposure to China, Bloomberg News reported last week, citing people familiar with the matter. (Reporting by Katya Golubkova and Kantaro Komiya in Tokyo; Additional reporting by Amy Lv in Beijing; Editing by Jamie Freed)