U.S. Steel Corp. Chairman David M. Roderick criticized today what he called the Carter administration's "do-little-or-nothing policy" on the ailing steel industry and predicted that by the end of the decade imports will amount to 40 percent of steel used here.
Speaking before the 88th general meeting of the American Iron and Steel Institute, Roderick compared foreign steel producers to mercantilists of the 18th Century who he said exploited the American market.
However, during an AISI panel discussion, several minutes later, Fernand Bruan, director for internal market and industrial affairs of the European Economic Community Commission, blasted Roderick's remarks and his reference to the Europeans as mercantilists.
"I can't go along with his blistering warnings on new mercantilism," Braun said, and added that he was protesting Roderick's "complete misrepresentation of Europe.
"To present Europe as Mr. Roderick did, as a protectionist bank of states, does not amount to reality," Braun continued. "I can by no stretch of the imagination conceive of a menace by Europe to the U.S. steel industry."
Later in the day the chairman of Bethlehem Steel Corp. and outgoing chairman of the AISI, Lewis W. Foy, said he hopes the steel industry and the government can reach a compromise that will re-establish the trigger-price mechanism.
The Carter administration suspended this system -- under which steel imports would be investigated if they sold below present "trigger prices" -- following the filing of dumping complaints by U.S. Steel against steel producers in seven European countries.
The government intended the trigger price mechanism as a substitute for the complaints, and had said it would suspend it if producers resumed those filings.
Last March U.S. Steel filed dumping complaints against steel producers in seven European countries. Those cases so far have been upheld by the U.S. International Trade Commission and the Commerce Department, which are completing their investigations.
At the time of the filing, suggestions were made that such a massive action could result in a trade war. And in an interview following his remarks, Braun didn't lay those suggestions to rest.
"We have all tried to have this situation under control, both the United States and the Europeans," Braun said. "One way or another, we will have to make sure once this difficulty is passed we get into a situation of normality again."
Braun said that it would be improper for him to comment further on the possibility of a trade war.
In an interview with the Washington Post on Wednesday, Roderick hinted that he would file import-related complaints against Canada, the United States' largest trading partner and its second-largest foreign steel supplier behind Japan. Last year Canada sent to the United States about half as much steel as all of the EEC countries combined.
Today Roderick again indicated that Canada may be in trouble. He talked about countries whose trade practices obstruct "the free flow of goods in international markets." Digressing from his written remarks, Roderick said, "You can find these trade practices if you look north, south, east or west of our borders."
Canada is the only steel-producing country north of the U.S. border.
Roderick said in an interview on Wednesday that he wouldn't name specific targets of import-related charges by his firm except Japan, until those complaints are filed within 30 to 60 days.
The chairman of the nation's largest steel maker said that first-quarter imports were about 10 percent higher than in the first quarter of last year, while shipments of steel by domestic producers declined.
"With steel imports growing at such a high rate, it's conceivable that imports could rise to 40 percent of the domestic market by the end of the decade." Roderick said. "That means we could be more dependent on foreign steel as a percent of our needs in 1990 than we are on foreign energy right now. And we know we don't like that."
"There seems to be a widespread misconception -- a misconception evidently shared by some, not all of the present administration -- that these trends are somehow magically going to reverse themselves overnight," Roderick continued. "Unfortunately, as the energy crisis has already proven, to depend upon magic is to ask for the tragic."
Roderick also said that the alleged imiproper trade practices could spread to other industries, a notion that the EEC'S Braun dismissed a improbable.
During a press conference later, Foy was aksed whether the steel industry is willing to make any trade compromises with European steel producers, such as voluntary restraint by the foreign countries.
"We're responsible citizens," Foy said. "The last thing we want is a trade war. Why? Steel is the second largest commodity shipped out of the U.S.," not just as raw steel but also as finished products.
"What we think might happen is that we might get some compromise with the government to reestablish the trigger-price mechanism," Foy continued.
Foy added that the steel industry and the government aren't negotiating such a compromise now. "We hope soon we can have some conversations along those lines," he said.
Roderick told the Washington Post on Wednesday that he hasn't had any negotiations with the government concerning the antidumping complaints and that the administration will have to approach U.S. Steel with any proposals.