Washington, Oct. 3: A federal trade panel approved duties as high as 369 per cent on imports of steel wire rods on Wednesday, a move that will shelter American mills but provoked angry protests from American companies that use the rods to make wire.
In a 5-0 vote, the panel, the International Trade Commission, ruled that low-priced imports from countries like Canada, Brazil, Mexico and Ukraine were hurting American producers and should be restricted.
The decision means that the commerce department can now impose duties it recommended in August. Mexico will face duties of 20 per cent on imports, Brazil 101 per cent, Ukraine 116 per cent and the former Soviet Republic of Moldova 369 per cent.
The decision is almost certain to antagonise countries that were already angry about the steel tariffs of up to 30 per cent that President Bush imposed in March.
The Bush administration is trying to build support for a free-trade agreement that covers all of Latin America. It is pushing for lower tariff barriers around the world in talks over the next three years.
But at the same time, the administration has angered many of its trading partners by supporting higher barriers for American steel makers and farmers.
The United States uses about eight million tonnes of wire rods a year, which are turned into thinner wire products of all kinds. More than one-third of that total is imports.
American producers have been shielded from imports for more than two years, when the government imposed “safeguard” tariffs that are supposed to protect an industry from a surge of imports.
Those tariffs are scheduled to expire next March, but American producers moved to extend their protection by charging foreign rivals with dumping their products at prices below their real cost.
American producers of wire rods say they have been hurt by cheap imports. Two of the companies that filed the anti-dumping complaints, Georgetown Steel of Georgetown, S.C., and Keystone Consolidated Industries of Dallas, recently emerged from bankruptcy protection after revamping.
The decision was immediately attacked by companies that buy wire rods to make hundreds of different kinds of steel wire.
“It’s devastating,” said Kimberly Korbel, executive director of the American Wire Producers Association. “Our competitors around the world are getting a great deal, and our government has just made our producers unbelievably uncompetitive.”