WASHINGTON -- Complaining that they are hurting and vowing to fight back, 12 U.S. steel companies filed dozens of petitions yesterday charging unfair trade practices by steel companies in 21 countries.
"Our problem now is everybody is dumping on us," said Walter F. Williams, chairman and chief executive officer of Bethlehem Steel Corp., the nation's second-largest steelmaker and the owner of the Sparrows Point mill in Baltimore County.
Mr. Williams and other steel executives announced the much-anticipated filing in the Capitol at a standing-room-only news conference. They were joined by representatives and senators from steel-producing states, including Maryland.
The filings, which cover steel exported from five continents, include 84 petitions charging foreign companies with dumping their products on the U.S. market and alleging that many have received subsidies from their home governments. The petitions cover imports that totaled 6.5 million tons of steel, valued at $2.5 billion, last year.
The products targeted in the petitions are various kinds of flat-rolled steel, which is used in cars, ships, building construction and consumer products. Flat-rolled products account for about 60 percent of the steel made in the United States.
The petitions were filed with the International Trade Administration of the U.S. Commerce Department, which investigates charges of dumping and subsidization. The International Trade Commission, another agency, determines whether any injury has been done to U.S. industry.
If the government finds in favor of the U.S. companies, it could impose duties to compensate for the alleged price differences.
The 12 companies filing the petitions were Armco Steel Co. L.P.; Bethlehem Steel; Geneva Steel; Gulf States Steel Inc. of Alabama; Inland Steel Industries Inc.; Laclede Steel Co.; Lukens Steel Co.; LTV Steel Co. Inc.; National Steel Corp.; Sharon Steel Corp.; USX Corp./U.S. Steel Group; and WCI Steel Inc.
The foreign producers named in the petitions are in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden and Taiwan.
European, Canadian and Japanese officials warned that the cases would heighten tensions already raised by disputes over trade in soybeans, lumber and minivans.
"It's going to put further strain on an already strained relationship," a senior Canadian official said Monday. Ella Krucoff, a spokeswoman for the European Community's Washington office, criticized the trade cases as "uncalled-for economic harassment and deeply disturbing to the steel trade."
Yesterday's filings were also denounced by Yoshitaka Fujitani, chairman of the Japan Steel Information Center in New York and president of NKK America Inc., the U.S. affiliate of Tokyo-based NKK Corp.
"We are very disappointed and highly indignant that major U.S. steel mills have followed through with their threats," he said in a statement. "These unfounded charges only harass legitimate competition and hurt American consumers."
Japanese companies, which have spent $3.5 billion on large shareholdings and joint ventures with all six big steel companies in the United States, waged a behind-the-scenes campaign for their shipments to be excluded from yesterday's cases.
The cases break down into two areas -- dumping and government subsidization. A foreign company would be guilty of dumping if it sold a product in the United States either below cost or charged less than it did in its home country. Complaints over subsidization involve the infusion of money into the foreign companies by their government.
The U.S. steel industry has used the threat of trade litigation to obtain import quotas and other trade mechanisms in the past, but Mr. Williams made it clear he was no longer interested in that remedy. "In the end, we want duties imposed," he said.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, also expressed frustration with trade arrangements, saying, "Every trade agreement is a code word for the loss of American jobs."
Ms. Mikulski rejected arguments that the filings would only worsen trade relations. "The Pacific Rim countries always say the situation is going to get worse," she said. "The situation can't get much worse."
Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, also attended the news conference "If the other [foreign] companies are smart, they will move toward trade agreements," she said afterward.