"Foreign steel hurst Sparrows Point and Baltimore."
That was the headline, in big, bold typeface, over a full-page advertisement in this morning's Baltimore Sun.
The ad, paid for by Bethlehem Steel Corp., signaled the beginning of a new offensive by the nation's steel industry and its workers to win some form of commitment from the Carter administration to curb growing imports of steel.
Bethlehem is the nation's second-largest steel manufacturer and the state of Maryland's largest private employer. About 20,000 of Bethlehem's 24,000 workers in the state are employed at the huge Sparrows Point steel plant here, the largest in the United States.
Speaking to a luncheon meeting of community, business; labor and government leaders today, Bethlehem chairman Levis W. Foy said he believes steel imports have contributed "in a major way" to some economic ills now confronting this state, particularly the loss of 40,000 manufacturing jobs since 1970.
"Some of those lost jobs in 'manufacturing' were in fact lost in steel manufacturing, he noted that the total declared value of steel products imported through East Coast ports last year, and which are produced at Sparrows Point, was more than $500 million.
"How much of that business could the Point have capturd if it hadn't gooned overseas? There's no telling, but I assure you that we would have welcomed any part of it. A mere 15 per cent of it would have been $75 million - and it could have put a lot of laid-off workers back on the job," Foy declared.
He was joined at the luncheon, and at a meeting with reporters, by John J. Sheehan, legislative director of the United Steelworkers of America in Washington, who said foreign steel manufacturers now are capturing about 15 per cent of the domestic market.
"The general public and news media seem to play down the concern of ours as if the rest of the world is operating under a free trade basis," Sheehan said.
Rather, Sheehan and Foy asserted, foreign steelmakers have been able to win a bigger share of the U.S. market because "they don't have to worry about profits." Virtually all foreign steel firms are owned, subsidized or financed by their own governments, with a primary goal of creating employment in those nations even if the price of exported steel must be cut-rate, they said.
The labor union official and steel company officer advocated two steps to fight the imports, in the newspaper advertisement and in their talks today:
"Effective enforcement" by the Carter administration of remedies for alleged unfair trade practices provided in the Trade Act of 1974.
"Prompt commencement" of international negotiations leading to an agreement that would curb "distortions in steel trade."
Foy and other industry leaders are particularly upset by an agreement last year between Japan and the European Economic Community, which effectively cut Japanese exports to Europe. What happened, according to U.S. steel leaders, is that Japanese steel exports previously sent to Europe are now being unloaded in the U.S. market.
Of nearly 14.3 million tons of steel imported by the U.S. last year (14 per cent of the market), more than half was manufactured in Japan. In the fourth quarter of 1976 alone, steel imports accounted for 18 per cent of the domestic market.
The American Iron & Steel Institute, an industry trade group, filed a complaint with the U.S. government last winter over the alleged Japanese-European agreement, which the U.S. manufacturers see as an unfair trade pratice.
Steel industry leaders have met several times with President Carter's special trade representative, Robert S. Strauss, or his staff in recent weeks on the steel issue and Foy expressed optimism today that the administration would act.
In Washington, a spokesman for the special trade office revealed that japan recently balked at a proposal by the U.S. and Common Market for a broad but quick study of world steel problems by the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation, which includes the leading industrial nations.
[The U.S. spokesman said the issue would be raised again at an OECD executive meeting in June. The goal of the proposed report, to be completed in one month, would be an "objective study" of the world trade in steel, discount pricing, over-capacity, subsidies by some countries and the cyclical nature of the industry, the official said.]
Foy said some recent forecasts that steel industry profits in 1977 could trail last year's resutls, "possibly could be true." His own firm suffered an unusual net loss - the first in many years - of $25.2 million compared with profits of $28.4 million (65 cents a share) in the same 1976 period. Revenues were flat at $1.3 billion in both periods.
The loss was caused by higher costs and the bitter winter weather and helped to spark a recent 6 percent steel price increase. Asked if there may be a second price boost this year, Foy said: "I haven't any idea."
He said the industry would welcome some sort of agreement that limited foreign imports to about 10 per cent of the domestic market, with some added formula to make certain that domestic producers received a larger share of future growth than foreign steelmakers.