Commerce Secretary Philip M. Klutznick said he does not favor special tax concessions for the ailing steel industry only but rather backs a comprehensive tax reduction next year aimed at speeding up the modernization of all U.S. industries.
Klutznick, who heads a government-industry-labor committee that is developing an "industrial policy" to deal with the steel industry's depressed sales and profits, emphasized in an interview that there are limits to the help the government should provide.
He offered no prediction on the outcome of negotiations involving the administration, the U.S. steel industry and European steel makers on the sensitive issue of steel import prices.
Klutznick met on the steel import issue yesterday with Etienne Davignon, industrial commissioner of the European Economic Community, but both men agreed not to disclose the substance of their talks. "This was just a discussion, not a negotiation," he said.
American steel officials are hopeful of reaching an agreement with the administration on a new trigger-price mechanism that in effect would set minimum prices for imported steel to give U.S. producers increased protection from lower-priced foreign shipments. The existing system was dropped in March after U.S. Steel Corp. filed a trade complaint against European competitors accusing them of dumping steel in the U.S. at unfair prices.
Klutznick said he expects a subcommitee of the government-industry-labor steel committee to propose a new steel trade policy before the end of August, but he said that restoring the trigger-price mechanism will not be easy.
He does not support the idea of a refundable tax credit proposed by some industry leaders that would provide government grants to companies whose 1980 losses are so large that they would get little benefit in the immediate future from new tax concessions. Companies can carry losses forward to reduce taxes in profitable years and some auto and steel companies, in particular, have nearly all the losses they can use for this purpose, industry analysts said.
Klutznick said he doesn't believe an administration industrial policy should focus on separating corporate "winners" from "losers" as targets for aid, or on assuring the survival of essential industries like steel and automobiles that are important for national security reasons.
Instead, the goal of government and private industry should be to see that U.S. manufacturers are "competitive in quality and price," he said. "You can't export if you can't sell to your own people."