Bethlehem joins Japanese-owned rival for project National Steel partner in plans for Miss. plant

May 19, 1992|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Staff Writer

Bethlehem Steel Corp. has formed a joint venture to build an $80 million plant in Jackson, Miss., company officials announced yesterday.

Its partner in the deal is National Steel Corp., the majority owner of which is a Japanese company that Bethlehem recently accused of dumping steel in the United States.

The steel-coating plant is part of a $380 million program Bethlehem announced in July 1989 that includes a $140 million sheet-coating line at the Sparrows Point plant in Baltimore County and a $160 million project at Bethlehem's Burns Harbor, Ind., plant. At the time of the original announcement, neither the location nor the partner for the third plant had been determined.

National Steel is 70 percent owned by NKK Corp., Japan's fifth-largest steelmaker.

The project was announced formally yesterday at a groundbreaking in Jackson.

The venture is the first with a Japanese-owned company for Bethlehem, which is known for accusing Japanese companies of violating trade laws.

May 1, Bethlehem and CF&I Steel Corp. of Pueblo, Colo., filed an anti-dumping petition with the U.S. Department of Commerce against producers of train rails in Japan, Britain and Luxembourg. It NKK as one of the companies responsible for allegedly selling rails below cost.

It was the second trade case filed by Bethlehem since steel quotas expired at the end of March. In April, the company joined with Inland Steel Industries Inc. in a petition charging unfair trade practices by producers of steel bar and rod products in Brazil, France, Germany and Britain.

Also last week, Bethlehem said foreign imports were one reason it began closing its rod mill at Sparrows Point, which could eliminate 350 jobs at the plant.

But a Bethlehem spokesman said the deal with National will have no effect on such actions.

"One's a commercial venture and the other is a legal action based on U.S. trade law," said Henry H. Von Spreckelsen, the spokesman.

Trade issues were not a factor informing the venture, said National Steel spokesman Joseph F. Barry.

National Steel, the fourth-largest steel producer in the United States, is working with five companies, including Bethlehem, in preparing possible unfair-trade-practice filings concerning flat rolled steel products. But Mr. Barry said any filing by National would not, "for obvious reasons," target Japanese producers.

Buddy W. Davis, director of District 34 of the United Steelworkers union, also does not believe the National Steel deal will sway Bethlehem in its efforts against imports.

The plant, which is scheduled for completion in early 1994, will be able to produce 270,000 tons of galvanized and Galvalume sheet steel a year. Galvalume is a coating process patented by Bethlehem that uses zinc and aluminum.

The plant would be supplied with semi-finished cold-rolled coils from Sparrows Point and from National mills in the Midwest. Bethlehem and National are equal partners in the new company, to be known as Double G Coatings Inc.

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