- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 8, 2001

A U.S. government trade panel yesterday recommended that President Bush slap stiff tariffs on imported steel to help the beleaguered domestic industry.
The International Trade Commission, an independent body charged with hearing complaints about imports, recommended duties ranging from 8 to 40 percent on 16 types of steel products.
Mr. Bush, who set the trade case in motion June 6 by asking the Department of Commerce to investigate steel imports, will have until early February to make a decision.
The steel industry, which has sought protection from imports since the Asian economic crisis sent steel prices plummeting in 1997 and forced 26 companies into bankruptcy since 1998, applauded the decision, and pressed Mr. Bush to follow through.
"It's a step in the right direction," said Nancy Gravatt, spokeswoman for the American Iron and Steel Institute. "Now it's up to the president to do the right thing."
The industry had sought 40 percent tariffs on flat-rolled steel, a product that is used in automobiles, among other products. But only two members of the six-person ITC concurred, while three suggested a duty of 20 percent, still enough to knock imports out of the U.S. market.
Mr. Bush has wide latitude to impose whatever trade restrictions he thinks are appropriate.
The ITC decision immediately drew a rebuke from the 15-nation European Union, whose producers ship steel to the United States. Europe's trade commissioner, Pascal Lamy, said the string of bankruptcies among U.S. companies is a home-grown problem.
"The U.S. steel industry needs to put its own house in order," he said.
The ITC's recommendations also would hurt companies from Mexico, Brazil and Korea, and a host of smaller producers.
U.S. companies that use steel and those that import it also criticized the decision.
"The ITC decision absolutely will not be enough to fix the problem of weak, inefficient companies," said Dave Phelps, president of the American Institute for International Steel, which represents importers.
Mr. Bush opened the trade case under strong pressure from the industry and from the United Steelworkers of America, a political force in many of the states that Mr. Bush lost or narrowly won in the 2000 election.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick urged the industry to begin restructuring to avoid future crises.

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