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Steel import charges due U.S. probe Industry wins round in unfair-trade battle


WASHINGTON -- U.S. steelmakers scored a first-round victory yesterday in their effort to persuade the government to assess penalties on a large share of U.S. steel imports.

The U.S. International Trade Commission found that in all but 12 of 84 complaints by the steelmakers, there are grounds for a Commerce Department investigation as to whether foreign suppliers are selling steel in the U.S. market at less than fair value, through cut-rate prices or government subsidies.

The charges, filed by 12 U.S. steel producers, including USX Corp., Bethlehem Steel Corp. and Armco Steel Co., are against exporters in 21 countries and center on shipments of cut-to-length plate, hot and cold-rolled flat products, and corrosion-resistant flat products.

Bethlehem Steel owns the Sparrows Point Steel mill in Baltimore County. All of the flat-rolled steel products listed in the petitions are made at Sparrows Point. Imports of those items from the 21 countries last year totaled $2.5 billion.

The International Trade Commission findings hit hardest at Germany, France, Brazil, Canada and South Korea. Taiwan, however, was cleared of unfair-trade-practice charges, and the Commerce Department will investigate only one of three charges against New Zealand.

Like New Zealand, Argentina will be investigated only on shipments of corrosion-resistant flat products.

U.S. steelmakers reportedly had believed the commission might drop at least 10 of the 84 cases. In many instances, it found possible injury to U.S. producers even though the foreign supplier's U.S. market share was 0.5 percent or less.

Charles Blum, a former U.S. trade official and now director of International Advisory Services Group Ltd., a Washington-based steel-trade consulting firm, said the commission's vote smacks of an "election year result and was based on little evidence.

Commissioner Janet Nuzum acknowledged that the panel's votes are "in many ways very qualified . . ." Legal arguments on both sides, she said, "were often presented without supporting evidence. . . . We . . . hope . . . the parties will do a more . . . thorough job of documenting . . . their positions."

Wherever the Commerce Department finds imports are sold at "dumping" prices or are government-subsidized, the cases will be returned to the commission for final rulings. If the commission confirms injury, duties will be triggered against the imports.

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