Though the American steel industry continues to battle against foreign steel invading its markets, it has a more welcoming attitude toward making steel and sharing technology with competitors such as the Japanese.

As the U.S. steel industry lost its competitive edge in technology and production, many companies looked to the Japanese, who had been making substantial investments in research and development and state-of-the-art equipment.

"Given their low level of investment in technology and low or negative profitability, it is not surprising that U.S. steelmakers could find neither the technology nor the capital they needed in the United States," said Leonard Lynn, associate professor of management policy at Case Western Reserve University. "They found both in Japan."

Consequently, Japanese investment in American steel companies began flowing in the 1980s. Five of Japan's largest integrated steel producers now have joint ventures in the United States and another, Kobe Steel, is sole owner of a company called Midrex, a steel technology company.

Yet another, Kawasaki Steel, has Brazilian and British partners in a Fontana, Calif., steel plant that was owned by Kaiser Steel. National Steel not only changed its name to National Intergroup, but also sold 50 percent of its steel operations to Nippon Kokan while another of its major works was spun off in an employe buyout plan.

Pittsburgh-based National Steel and Marubeni Corp., a Japanese trading and finance company, will build a $17 million steel plant near Detroit to serve the auto industry.

Last year, USS, the steelmaking subsidiary of USX Corp., entered into a venture with the low-cost South Korean steelmaker Pohang Iron and Steel Co. to produce and market sheet and flat-rolled products at its Pittsburg, Calif., plant.

Many American companies also turn to the Japanese for consulting and cooperation on the latest in steel technology. Inland Steel Industries, for example, has a number of ongoing "technology transfers" with Japan's Nippon Steel and Nippon Kokan.

More significantly, Inland has broken ground on a $400 million continuous cold-rolled steel complex in Indiana with Nippon Steel Corp. Financing and equipment procurement for the plant will come from three Japanese trading companies.

Japan's growing interest in the U.S. steel market -- prompted by fears of protectionism and a desire to supply Japanese manufacturers in the U.S. -- is an about-face from the 1940s and 1950s when American steelmakers were the driving force behind rebuilding and upgrading the Japanese steel industry.

U.S. government restraints on foreign steel cut Japanese imports in 1986 by 33 percent from 1984.

"The Japanese realize that protectionism will be a continuing problem and this is a way to participate in the American market directly," said Charles Butler, director of the Japan Steel Information Center.