The Commerce Department has disputed a White House version of last Friday's meeting between President Reagan and leaders of the U.S. steel industry, and said Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige will not attempt to seek an accommodation with European steelmakers this week.
Commerce Department officials said in a clarifying statement that Baldrige will seek compliance by the Europeans with U.S. trade laws and will warn them of the consequences of dismantling the steel trigger-price mechanism. The consequences would be that "they're going to have a lot of problems," a Commerce Department spokeswoman said.
The trigger-price mechanism is a system of monitoring prices of imported steel that is intended to generate a government investigation when steel enters the United States at prices below certain levels. Baldrige has said that if U.S. companies file massive complaints alleging unfair trading practices by foreign steel makers, the trigger-price mechsanism might be dismantled because the Commerce Department wouldn't have enough personnel to handle all of the work.
On Friday, White House Deputy Press Secretary Larry Speakes and another spokesman told The Washington Post that Reagan had directed Baldrige to "work out an accommodation" with the Europeans. Speakes had said such an accommodation would be in line with the president's free-trade philosophy. Administration sources said the accommodation would be similar to the "voluntary restraint" agreed to by Japanese automakers last spring. The Japanese agreed to limit vehicle exports to the United States for at least two years.
Baldrige won't try to work out a voluntary restraint arrangement, Commerce Department officials said yesterday.
U.S. steel companies expressed a willingness to wait until Baldrige returns from Brussels before taking any action, the Commerce Department and the White House said.