The Reagan administration, having failed in its efforts to end one of the worst U.S.-European trade crises in recent history, yesterday charged steel makers from five Common Market countries and Romania with selling steel here at unfairly low prices.
The preliminary decision is the second blow to the European Economic Community's steel makers in the past two months. It requires the importers of the offending steel products to post bonds with the government as high as 41 percent of the product's value.
The Commerce Department already had ruled against seven European countries in another case last June, accusing them of receiving unfair subsidies from their governments and undercutting their U.S. competitors.
In addition, Commerce said appropriate duties will be levied retroactively to May 10 on imports of certain steel products from two French and one Belgian firms because Commerce found "there had been a surge of shipments apparently intended to beat the statutory deadlines for imposition of antidumping duties." Those firms are Sacilor and Usinor of France and Cockerill-Sambre of Belgium.
Dumping means selling steel at prices below the cost of producing it.
The countries accused in the new decision are Romania, Belgium, France, Italy, West Germany and the United Kingdom, the same ones charged in the last round of decisions. Complaints filed by seven of the nation's largest steel makers against Luxembourg and the Netherlands, which were also included in the last ruling, were omitted because dumping margins for those products were less than 1 percent, Commerce said.
There was no immediate response from the EEC to the decisions.
In a related development, U.S. steel makers were reported to be considering filing antitrust lawsuits in a federal court against the European steel makers in an effort to cut back European steel exports. Armco Inc. and Inland Steel Co. said they don't plan to participate in any antitrust action.
A spokesman for Bethlehem Steel Corp. would not comment on any legal remedy the company might pursue, but said that Bethlehem Steel generally always reviews all available remedies to protect its rights. The company neither admitted nor denied that it intended to file an antitrust action.
U.S. Steel Corp. had no comment on the report.
Commerce's decisions came after tense negotiations between Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige and high level EEC officials last week in an attempt to head off not only yesterday's action but also any subsequent rulings against European steel makers that would result in added duties. The negotiations culminated in an arrangement to limit exports of steel products from the EEC.
However, three of the nation's largest steel makers and the U.S. specialty steel industry immediately rejected the proposal as inadequate, virtually killing the long-sought arrangement.
The tentative agreement would have limited European steel exports in 11 categories between October and the end of 1985.
It also would have set up an export licensing arrangement that would have cut exports from Europe next year to 5.754 percent of the U.S. market, compared to with 6.4 percent now. The agreement, however, didn't include limits for shipments of foreign pipe and tube products for the oil industry, the most troublesome issue in the dispute. That issue would have been decided later under the proposal.
Assistant Commerce Secretary Gary Horlick said that many of the decisions were based on information provided by U.S. industry or other sources because the European firms wouldn't provide needed data, and that preliminary dumping margins could change substantially based on better information.
Horlick also said changes in exchange rates could influence the dumping duties.
The long-standing dispute peaked 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 determination is made on Aug. 24.
In yesterday's decision, Commerce said steel from 16 companies in six countries had been priced here at unfairly low levels. The dumping margins ranged from 0.003 percent for a Netherlands company to 40.7 percent for a steel maker in Italy.
Commerce is scheduled to make a decision in the case on Oct. 25.
The companies accused in the ruling are: Cockerill-Sambre, Forges de Clabecq and Fabrique de Fer de Charleroi of Belgium; AG der Dillinger Huttenwerke, Klockner-Werke AG, Stahlwerke Rochling-Burbach GmbH, Otto Wolf, Hoesch and Thyssen of West Germany; Sacilor and Usinor of France; Italsider and Teksid of Italy; Metalimportexport of Romania, and British Steel Corp. and Darlington & Simpson Rolling Mills Ltd. of the United Kingdom.