The administration's plan to set minimum prices for imported steel was criticized from all sides yesterday, but spokesmen for the industry and labor said they were willing to wait and see how well the program works.
U.S. Steel Corp. chairman Edgar B. Speer said that not enough is known about the administration's plan or how it will be administered "for anyone to make a meaningful judgment."
Testifying before a House Ways and Means subcommittee, Speer said that absence of critical comments from the steel industry "should not be interpreted as either acceptance or rejection of the system."
The program, developed by Treasury Under Secretary Anthony M. Solomon, sets minimum prices for steel imports based on the cost of production of the Japanese, thought to be the world's most efficient steel producer.
If steel is shipped to the United States at a price lower than the minimum, or trigger price, an immediate investigation is launched by the government to determine whether the products are being sold below the cost of production, or dumped, which is illegal.
The steel industry has long complained that it has been the victim of low-priced imports, which have gobbled up the American market.
Speer told the subcommittee that while not all trigger prices have been announced by Treasury, a number of those that "have been announced are unrealistically low. The effectiveness of the entire system will depend upon the continual undating of trigger prices and the will to promptly act against any violator who dumps his product in this market. No one can judge the system until it has been operating for some period of time."
Speer said the trigger price system can only be a temporary solution and that a permanent code for major steel-producing nations must be developed at the muti-lateral trade talks now being held in Geneva.
John J. Sheehan, legislative director of the United Steel Workers of America, made points similar to Speer's. He said steel workers - 60,000 of whom are laid off because of foreign competition - welcomed the interest of the administration and its trigger price systems and are "now awaiting results of its effectiveness."
Subcommittee chairman Charles Vanik (D-Ohio) said the trigger price system is actually a way for the administration to avoid "vigorous enforcement" of the nation's anti-dumping laws. He said the system guarantees European producers a share of the U..S market, "even though their steel is being dumped."
European producers have production costs in excess of both U.S. and Japanese producers, but presumably could sell their product at the trigger price. However, domestic steel producers have argued that they would be competitive with Japan in the United States if Japan sold steel at what it cost to produce and ship it here.
Presumably, then, even if European steel is being sold below cost, domestic steel makers could not prove they were being injured by it if they are as efficient as they claim and if the trigger prices are actually set at Japanese production costs.
The Treasury's Solomon testified that more trigger prices would be released this week.
Kurt Orban, president of the American Institute for Imported Steel, said the trigger prices will boost the cost of steel about $40 a ton, or $4 billion a year.
Not only are the trigger prices inflationary, Orban said, they will cause regional imbalances in trade. Trigger prices are competitive on the West Coast, "marginal in the Gulf, virtually prohibitive in the Great Lakes, and likely to produce very little business on the East Coast."
Steel fabricators, who buy steel from producers and turn it into various products, said they worry that the trigger prices will keep out foreign steel but that foreign steel fabricators, not covered by the program, will pick up the slack.
In prepared testimony, B.R. Dickerson of the Crispin Co., a Houston based steel exporter, importer and distributor, said foreign manufacturers will be able to buy lower-priced internationally traded steel, while UL.S. fabricators and manufacturers will have to buy steel at the higher reference price which will put domestic manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage.