The administration plans to put its program to restrain steel imports into effect by February and may come up with higher-than-expected minimum prices for foreign steel, sources said.
At the same time, the administration is developing a several-hundred-million-dollar program to help steel companies modernize their facilities in areas of high unemployment when the companies do not have sufficient resources to effect the modernization themselves.
Treasury Undersecretary Anthony M. Solomon heads up a task force that is nearly ready to recommend a five-part program to aid the ailing domestic steel industry, with relief from low-priced imports the linchpin of the program.
Solomon briefed senators and representatives from steel districts yesterday and told them he expected to have his report to the President early next week.
A key a congressional and steel industry acceptance is the minimum price the administration sets for foreign steel. If steel comes in lower than the minimum, or reference, price, government action against the importer is triggered.
Initially the task force planned to set the reference price at 5 per cent below the price of the most efficient foreign producer of steel, which in most cases would be a Japanese company.
But administration sources said yesterday that the task force now is considering a plan to give it more discretion to set the reference price within a 5 per cent range above or below the price determined to be that of the most efficient foreign producer.
Treasury officials have explained that the 5 per cent range gives the administration more latitude when it adjusts the price each quarter so that abrupt price swings can be eliminated.
But congressional observers noted that it also would permit the Treasury to set higher reference prices. Steel industry executives have argued that a low reference price give the United States industry no protection against low-priced imports and have said they would not be likely to cooperate with a plan that did not give them the protection they felt they were entitled to under law.
It is against the law for foreign companies to sell products in the United States at prices below the cost of production. Several major steel companies have filed so-called anti-dumping actions against foreign steel producers and more such filings are being worked on.
Under the plan produced by the Solomon task force, the government, not industry, would file quick anti-dumping actions against imports that would cut the normally year-long process to several months, levying fines quickly.
While low-priced imports - which have taken up to as much as 20 per cent of the United States market in recent months - are the major near-term problem facing domestic steel makers, outmoded plants, heavy anti-pollution expenditures and low profits also plague American steel companies.
The Solomon task force also is working on a plan that would give the Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration several hundred million dollars to back loans to steel companies who need to modernize their facilities but cannot afford to do so.
The task force believes that, when the import relief is put into place, the financial position of many companies will improve markedly, but administration sources said the government already has several plants in mind that could use this special help.
In another development, the Commerce Department reported yesterday that foreign producers of specialty steels, such as stainless, now account for the lowest portion of domestic consumption in three years.