WASHINGTON -- Steelmakers scored another victory yesterday in their campaign to limit steel imports when a government agency ruled that a surge in cheap Japanese and South Korean steel products used to build U.S. office buildings may have injured domestic producers.
While the International Trade Commission voted to proceed with an investigation of the Asian producers, it dropped charges against German and Spanish producers, a move that disappointed U.S. producers.
"Imports from these two countries were a problem and did cause injury to the U.S. industry and they are likely to return," said Alan Price, an attorney for the U.S. steelmakers. Shipments from South Korea and Japan make up two-thirds of U.S. steel beam imports.
Three U.S. companies -- Northwestern Steel and Wire Co., Nucor-Yamato Steel Co., a joint venture, and TXI-Chaparral Steel Co. -- filed a complaint earlier this month with the government accusing structural-steel beam producers from Japan and South Korea, as well as from Spain and Germany, of selling the product at unfair prices.
The three U.S. companies, which produce 90 percent of all structural beams in this country, are asking the Commerce Department to place duties of as much as 138 percent on imports from nine companies in Japan and South Korea. Structural beams make up 5 percent of total U.S. steel production.
The vote by the ITC clears the way for a Commerce Department investigation of whether the imports were sold at unfair prices. Duties will not be imposed until both agencies have made final rulings.
The complaint is one of many filed in the past year by U.S. steel producers angered over a flood of inexpensive foreign steel imports.
Those complaints have placed the Clinton administration in a difficult situation: While steel workers are traditional Democratic Party supporters, the administration is eager to help the economies of South Korea, Brazil and other targets of dumping complaints to recover.
Among the companies covered by the latest complain are Japan's NKK Corp. and Nippon Steel Corp. and South Korea's Inchon Iron and Steel Co. and Kangwon Industries Co.
Imports of the beams increased from 296,220 tons in 1997 to more than 1.6 million tons last year.