- The Washington Times - Friday, August 23, 2002


The administration, seeking to avert a global trade war over steel, announced 178 exemptions yesterday to high tariffs President Bush had imposed in March to protect the battered domestic industry.

The latest exemptions, by far the largest granted, bring the amount of steel excluded from the high tariffs to 3.2 million metric tons, nearly a quarter of the 13.1 million metric tons of foreign steel covered by the original order.

U.S. steel companies accused the administration of buckling to foreign pressure and reneging on a campaign promise to do a better job than the Clinton administration in protecting American jobs.

"Little by little, the [original order] is being gutted," said Tim Roberts, a spokesman for WCI Steel in Warren, Ohio.

"Clearly, we are disappointed," said Gary Hubbard, a spokesman for the United Steel Workers of America union. "We are crossing the threshold of whether the tariff will do the job that the administration and the industry agreed needed to be done."

Mr. Bush's decision in March to grant broad protective tariffs ranging as high as 30 percent for a period of three years grew out of promises he and running mate Richard B. Cheney made during the 2000 presidential campaign to steelworkers, saying a Republican administration would not forget them, implying that President Clinton had.

Steel producing states like West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania were key battlegrounds in the 2000 presidential race. They also are expected to figure prominently in November's fight over which party will control the House and Senate.

The protections provoked a firestorm of complaints from U.S. trading partners, led by the 15-nation European Union and Japan, both of which filed cases against the United States before the World Trade Organization and threatened to impose retaliatory tariffs without waiting for the WTO to rule unless the administration modified its original order.

The EU issued a hit list of $350 million in American products, including Florida citrus and textiles produced in North and South Carolina, designed to inflict political damage in states that Republicans were counting on carrying in the fall congressional elections.

The EU, which had delayed imposing the retaliatory tariffs until at least September, had no immediate reaction to the latest exemptions, but officials in Japan indicated they would call off their own threatened retaliation.

Steel-consuming companies in the United States expressed disappointment that the exemptions did not go further, saying more jobs would be lost in steel-consuming companies than saved in the steel industry.

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