The best hope for ending the steel trade crisis between Europe and the United States appeared dashed yesterday when the nation's largest steel maker rejected a long-sought steel import agreement sweated out Thursday night by U.S. and European officials.
David M. Roderick, chairman of U.S. Steel Corp., which was the leader in steel trade complaints against Europe, said he rejected "with reluctance and regret" the arrangement, arrived at after three days of intense discussions between high-level European and U.S. officials, which would have ended one of the bitterest trade disputes between the trading partners.
"We believe the negotiated proposal is neither fair nor equitable and to accept it would be to condone a continuation of massive subsidies by European governments of their steel companies and permit a continuation of unreasonably high levels of steel imports into the American marketplace," Roderick said last night.
"While the agreement falls far short of what was expected, I do want to express our appreciation to the administration and particularly to Secretary of Commerce (Malcolm) Baldrige for the unprecedented effort to resolve the decades-old steel trade dispute," Roderick said.
In order for the agreement to become effective and remove the irritant between the two trading partners, U.S. Steel and other steel makers that complained against the Europeans would have to approve the arrangement.
"We haven't seen the U.S. Steel statement," said assistant Commerce Secretary Gary Horlick. "If it is a rejection, that's unfortunate. But both governments made a good faith effort to find a solution."
A European official earlier said if the arrangement failed they would not return to the bargaining table.
Roderick didn't specify what was unacceptable in the proposal.
The long-standing dispute reached crisis proportions on June 24 when the Commerce Department preliminarily ruled that seven European steel makers had been unfairly subsidized by their governments by as much as 40 percent. Commerce then required the foreign steel importers to post bonds or cash in the amount of the alleged subsidy until a final determination is made on Aug. 24.
The European Economic Community in veiled threats warned that it would retaliate against American agricultural products and in other areas if Commerce carried out its decision.
The rejection yesterday opens the way for the possibility of more bonds and stiff duties to be levied Monday in another set of unfair trade practices complaints against the Europeans. The talks last week attempted to head off any additional financial burden on the European steel industry and any opportunity for reprisals.
In these cases the U.S. industry accused the Europeans of dumping, that is selling steel here at prices below what they would sell it in their home markets.
The tentative agreement reached between the two sides would have limited European steel exports in 11 categories between October and the end of 1985. The agreement would set up an export licensing arrangement that would have the effect of reducing exports from Europe next year to 5.754 percent of the U.S. market compared to the 6.3 percent penetration now. The agreement, however, didn't include limits for shipments of foreign pipe and tube products for the oil industry, the most nettlesome issue in the dispute. That issue would be decided by Sept. 15 under the proposal.