The International Trade Commission decided yesterday to impose penalty duties on Japanese semiconductors. The ruling came as the United States and Japan were reported close to settling a series of complaints of unfair trade tactics against Japanese chip makers trying to gain an edge in this country.
The ITC ruling, which would lead to duties as high as 35 percent above the selling price on one type of semiconductor, came in one of four major trade complaints brought against Japanese manufacturers by the U.S. industry and the Reagan administration. These complaints, dealing with the cutting edge of technology, have become the major irritant in U.S.-Japanese trade relations.
Administration and industry sources reported yesterday that the two governments are close to an agreement that could lead to a settlement of all the semiconductor trade complaints.
U.S. Trade Representative Clayton Yeutter will meet in Tokyo today with his Japanese counterpart, Minister of International Trade and Industry Michio Watanabe, and was reported as hoping to wrap up the contentious semiconductor issue.
No details were available here on the shape of the settlement, although administration officials said U.S. manufacturers would have to gain as much from the agreement as they would if the unfair trade complaints are decided.
There were reports that the Japanese were pressing Yeutter to make an announcement on the settlement while he is in Tokyo. But some industry officials, pointing out that the Reagan administration must get their approval of any settlement that includes withdrawing trade complaints, said more time may be needed.
"There has been movement on the Japanese side, which in my view is where the movement has to be if there is a settlement," said one industry source yesterday.
Yesterday's ITC decision, which found that Micron Technology Corp. suffered economic injury because of sales of Japanese 64K dynamic random action memory (DRAM) semiconductors, was believed to have helped push Japan toward a settlement.
The Commerce Department found last month that Japanese companies dumped 64K DRAMs in the United States at prices below the fair market value. The dumping margins ranged from 11.87 percent for Hitachi to 35.34 percent for OKI Electronic Industry Co., according to the Commerce findings. These will become the penalty duties assessed on 64K DRAM imports.
The ITC decided by a 4-2 vote yesterday that Micron Technology suffered material injury as a result of the dumping by the Japanese companies.
ITC Chairman Paula Stern, voting for the domestic company, said the Japanese dumping of 64K DRAM chips "in a market suffering a dramatic decline in demand resulted in an unprecedented price decline that proved to be devastating to the industry."
Stern said that six companies involved in "a vital, innovative, competitive industry" stopped making the 64K DRAMs. "Employment declined, and substantial profits -- so vital to this capital-intensive, research-and-development-oriented industry -- evaporated into huge losses," Stern said.
She was joined in favoring the dumping duties by Commissioners David Rohr, Alfred E. Eckes Jr. and Seeley Lodwick. Susan Liebeler and Anne E. Brunsdale voted against the dumping duties.
Industry sources said the Japanese also appeared to feel pressure from a "sense of the House" resolution calling for quick action on the semiconductor issue. The resolution, introduced by Rep. Les AuCoin (D-Ore.), passed as part of a trade package last week with only five negative votes.
The Commerce Department also has found Japanese companies were dumping two other types of semiconductors, 256K EPROMs (erasable, programable read-only memory chips) and 256K DRAMs. The complaint against the 256K EPROM dumping was brought by three major Silcon Valley manufacturers, while the Reagan administration initiated the complaint involving 256K DRAMs.
In addition, the industry brought a wide-ranging trade complaint accusing a government-sanctioned cartel of limiting sales by U.S. companies in Japan to no more that 10 to 12 percent of the market. This complaint has a July 1 deadline for settlement or Japan could face U.S. retaliation.
Industry sources said a settlement is likely to include commitments of increased, guaranteed access for U.S. sales in Japan, an end to dumping in the United States, and no dumping in other countries to block U.S. sales or allow for cheaper Japanese manufactured high-technology goods.