Steel-dumping cases stir hopes in industry -- and at law firms Bethlehem's mill at Sparrows Point could reap benefits

July 02, 1992|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Staff Writer

Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point mill in Baltimore County will be a direct beneficiary if the nation's steel companies succeed in their bid to stem what they allege is steel dumping by foreign producers.

"These actions are of extraordinary importance to the Sparrows Point plant," said Curtis H. Barnette, Bethlehem's senior vice president. He spoke yesterday at a news conference at the plant to explain why the company joined 11 other U.S. steelmakers in filing trade cases against companies in 21 countries.

The petitions, filed with the Department of Commerce Tuesday, involve various kinds of flat rolled steel, which account for about 70 percent of Sparrows Point production.

Bethlehem estimates that if the foreign companies were not engaged in the alleged unfair trade practices, the plant's 6,000-person work force would be about 5 percent bigger said spokesman G. Ted Baldwin.

Included in that calculation were operations that made pipe, wire, nail and steel strand, and were dropped due to foreign competition, he said.

Mr. Barnette said that although Bethlehem and the rest of the U.S. steel industry have done what they can to become more efficient, imports continue to be supported by subsidies from foreign governments.

In the last eight to 10 years, Bethlehem has cut costs by 15 percent and reduced the number of man-hours required to make a ton of steel to four from eight.

When Bethlehem shipped steel to automobile makers a decade ago, 9 percent of it was rejected, Mr. Barnette said. That proportion has dropped to 0.1 percent, he said.

During the period, Bethlehem's employment fell to 26,000 from 67,000. At Sparrows Point, employment fell to 6,000 from 13,500.

"It makes it inexplicable how foreign steel companies can trade in our market when we are clearly the low-cost producer," Mr. Barnette said.

If the companies succeed in their effort, the government could impose duties to compensate for the alleged price differences.

It will take about a year and millions of dollars to make the steelmakers' case.

If the companies prove their case, the International Trade Commission, a federal agency, will determine what duties to impose, if any.

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