U.S. International Trade Commission rules in favor of U.S. steel industry on subsidized Chinese imports

FILE--In this June 26, 2009 file photo a steel worker labors at a small-scale steel plant in Shenyang in northeast China's Liaoning province. The U.S. government is imposing new duties on imports of steel pipes from China, the latest sign of trade tensions between the two countries. (AP Photo/File)
FILE--In this June 26, 2009 file photo a steel worker labors at a small-scale steel plant in Shenyang in northeast China's Liaoning province. The U.S. government is imposing new duties on imports of steel pipes from China, the latest sign of trade tensions between the two countries. (AP Photo/File) (Anonymous - AP)

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By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 31, 2009

The U.S. International Trade Commission ruled Wednesday that a surge of subsidized Chinese steel has harmed or threatens to harm the U.S. industry, acting in one of the largest trade cases ever involving the two countries.

The volume of the steel pipes imported from China more than tripled from 2006 to 2008, rising from $681 million to $2.8 billion, according to the most recent Commerce Department figures.

The case means that the United States can collect duties on the Chinese imports.

"This is great news for the U.S. steel industry," said Roger Schagrin, an attorney for the U.S. steelmakers and the United Steelworkers union.

The case also promises to heighten U.S.-China trade tensions, which were aggravated earlier this year when the Obama administration imposed a tariff on imported Chinese tires.

Because the recent case was decided by the commission after a judicial-like process rather than by the administration, trade observers said the case may be less likely to provoke a reaction from the Chinese government.

"The president doesn't really get his hands dirty in this," said Dan Ikenson, associate director for trade policy studies at the Cato Institute. "I think the Chinese government knows this is not reflective of the Obama administration's trade policy."

Attorneys representing the Chinese steel producers in the case could not be reached for comment or said they had not received permission to comment.

In a statement last month, China's Ministry of Commerce called the proposed tariffs in the case "abusive protectionism."

The commission, which consists of three Republicans and three Democrats, voted unanimously on the matter.

According to the U.S. steel companies that filed the complaint along with the United Steelworkers, Chinese government subsidies to steelmakers unfairly allowed the Chinese firms to overwhelm their U.S. rivals.

The steel pipes at issue, known as oil country tubular goods, are used primarily by the oil and gas industry. By dollar volume of imports in the industry, the case represents the largest U.S.-China trade case ever, lawyers said.


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