Tariffs sought for cold imports

U.S. steelmakers want government to curb `dumping'

High-profit product

Steel

May 29, 1999|By William Patalon III | William Patalon III,SUN STAFF

U.S. steelmakers will ask the government to slap punitive tariffs on imports of cold-rolled steel, a traditionally high-profit product used in such wares as appliances and cars, executives of Bethlehem Steel Corp. and other American companies say.

At its Sparrows Point Division in Baltimore County, Bethlehem Steel is spending an estimated $300 million to replace its outdated mill for making cold-rolled steel.

Bethlehem, USX-U.S. Steel Corp. and Steel Dynamics Inc. executives allege that some foreign steelmakers are "dumping" cold-rolled steel on the U.S. market -- selling it here for less than in their home market.

"We will be filing a cold-rolled case in the near future," Curtis H. "Hank" Barnette, Bethlehem's chairman and chief executive officer, told the annual meeting of the American Iron & Steel Institute in New York this week.

Prices for cold-rolled steel, which make up about 10 percent of steel imports, fell as much as 20 percent last year as imports increased. Prices have rebounded from their lows but have yet to regain previous levels.

Industry observers familiar with cases said the charges could be filed as early as next week and against companies from more than 10 countries.

Foreign companies have repeatedly denied dumping steel in the United States.

To make cold-rolled steel, mills take hot-rolled steel and run it through an extra step to give it a superfine finish. That is why cold-rolled steel commands a higher price than hot-rolled and can be used in products where the appearance is critical.

Hot-rolled steel is used extensively in construction products such as bridges.

If filed, the cold-rolled steel case would be the latest dumping charges leveled against foreign steel companies by their U.S. rivals.

A pivotal case is pending against some importers of the hot-rolled metal, which accounts for the bulk of all steel production. In response to the hot-rolled allegations, the Commerce Department has set preliminary tariffs on products from companies in Japan and Brazil.

In another case, involving steel plate, the U.S. International Trade Commission has found that U.S. companies were "injured" enough to warrant tariffs -- the key finding that allows such duties to be placed. The tariffs have not been imposed.

American steel companies have been trying to reverse the market-share gains overseas steel companies have made in the United States.

The U.S. companies say the gains came because foreign companies broke trade laws by dumping or selling steel for less than it cost to make.

Bethlehem Steel, which has plants in Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Indiana, has been investing hundreds of millions of dollars to modernize its factories with more than $500 million targeted for Sparrows Point. But the company cannot compete with steel that has an illegally low price, Barnette has said.

Filing dumping cases has helped the U.S. steel industry win back market share: Foreign companies, fearful of the punitive tariffs that would likely keep them out of this market completely, have been ratcheting back their imports or allowing their prices to rise in the different steel sectors. In turn, that has led to market-share gains by U.S. companies and higher overall prices to customers.

Bloomberg News contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 5/29/99

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