WASHINGTON – Tariffs should be kept on some steel imports for five years, a U.S. trade panel voted Thursday, a victory for the industry that wants to maintain the protection as it struggles to rebound from bankruptcies.
The duties were implemented in 1999 to prevent a flood of low-priced hot-rolled steel from the three foreign markets. The three countries dumped about 7 million tons of hot-rolled steel in 1998, trade officials said, part of an unprecedented surge into the American market.
A second wave of steel imports from 11 other countries led to additional tariffs in 2002, which President Bush lifted in late 2003.
“This decision is a victory for our steel industry. It will help protect the livelihood of our steelworkers, their families and their communities,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
Automakers, suppliers and domestic manufacturers that use steel said the tariffs were causing higher prices and harming their ability to stay competitive.
Ford Motor Co. said in a statement that the decision “seriously impacts steel consuming manufacturers as well as our entire economy.” The automaker predicted that the United States “will continue to see constrained supplies of steel and prices that are artificially high.”
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said the ruling was unfair and could lead to suppliers shifting their business overseas in order to remain competitive. A trade panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to hold hearings on the issue soon, he said.
“This decision is the wrong decision, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons,” Rogers said.
The U.S. steel industry has rebounded and reorganized since the tariffs were first ordered and the sector turned a profit in 2004 for the first time in years.