U.S. finds 'dumping' evidence Steel rulings could set precedents

September 12, 1992|By New York Times News Service The Journal of Commerce contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- The Commerce Department tentatively ruled yesterday that several foreign steel companies were selling some types of bars and pipes in the United States at unfairly low prices or with unfair subsidies and moved to impose punitive customs duties on these imports.

The rulings involve narrowly defined categories of pipes and bars. Imports in these cases totaled $314.5 million last year. The decisions are important mainly for the precedents they set for the Commerce Department's consideration this winter of 72 legal cases filed by U.S. steel producers June 30 against flat-rolled and plate steel imports from four dozen countries.

Inland Steel Industries and Bethlehem Steel Corp. filed the steel bar cases. Bethlehem owns a steel mill and a shipyard at Sparrows Point in Baltimore County. The two sites have a total of 7,300 workers.

Yesterday's decisions were mixed for U.S. steelmakers. The department found heavy subsidies at most German steel companies, one Brazilian company and at France's main steelmaker. But it found few or no subsidies at Germany's largest steelmaker, at British steelmakers and at other Brazilian steel producers.

France's Usinor-Sacilor, the world's second-largest steelmaker after Nippon Steel, responded indignantly to the department ruling that 12.88 percent of its steel price represented subsidies.

The department ruled separately that companies in Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, Romania, Taiwan and Venezuela were selling pipe at unfairly low prices and that Venezuela was providing a subsidy of less than 1 percent to its producers.

The decisions on bars were preliminary and must be reviewed by the Commerce Department and the International Trade Commission before duties are imposed. The pipe decisions were final for Commerce but must also be reviewed by the commission before duties are imposed.

A month ago, steelmakers scored their first victory in this effort to persuade the government to penalize a large share of U.S. steel imports, which last year totaled $2.5 billion.

The International Trade Commission ruled that 72 of the 84 original complaints had 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.

Yesterday's decision was an outgrowth of those complaints.

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

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