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Business

US steelmakers wary of Asian rivals

Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal has expanded production in the U.S. to avoid trade friction.

DETROIT -- U.S. steelmakers are increasingly alarmed by the amount of cheap steel flowing into the country from Asia.

     As part of the effort to protect their turf, U.S. Steel and other makers recently filed a complaint against some foreign competitors, more than half from Asia, to the U.S. International Trade Commission on allegedly violating the federal anti-dumping act.

     After reviewing the case, the commission ruled Aug. 22 that U.S. industry was materially injured or threatened with material injury by imports of certain goods from India, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam.

     An official at U.S. Steel welcomed the decision, adding that the company would continue to consider taking other actions in Asian countries including law enforcement. According to the official, specific targets included Thailand, the Philippines and Saudi Arabia.

     The subject of the latest investigation was a component called an oil country tubular good. Demand for these, known by their acronym OCTG, is surging in the U.S., where they are used by shale gas companies.

     Many American steel companies, including U.S. Steel and electric arc furnace maker Nucor, have accused China of being the main cause of the global excess supply of steel. However, the target of the criticism has expanded to include players in other Asian countries, too.

     In South Korea, protest against the International Trade Commission's decision is mounting. Posco demanded Seoul take actions, including possible filing a counter-complaint about the commission's ruling with the World Trade Organization.

     Japanese steel makers narrowly escaped similar sanctions. American makers including AK Steel in 2013 lodged a complaint against rivals from Japan and other countries for alleged violation of anti-dumping laws in the import of oriented magnetic steel sheets used for electric substation equipment.

     The ITC, which once found the defendants guilty, revised the view and discharged the complaint in August on the ground that the American industry had not been materially injured or threatened by the import of the product.

     Japanese manufacturers had been paying anti-dumping taxes for steel plate for automotive since 1993, which effectively ended exports of the product into the U.S. According to an official of Nippon Steel Corporation and Sumitomo Metal in the U.S., the company has been paying extra attention to the export of steel materials since then. The company only exports special steel products such as magnetic steel sheets that U.S. rivals cannot make or cannot satisfy demand for at home.

     The complaint to the ITC by U.S. steelmakers is a sign the industry may be moving toward protectionism.

     According to American Iron and Steel Institute, the U.S. imported 27.5 million tons of steel, 37% more than the same period a year earlier, for seven months through July, the majority of which came from Asian countries. The trade group has been asserting recently that the surge in imports is the biggest crisis for the industry in the last decade. It claims the jobs of as many as half a million workers are at risk.

     U.S. Steel is taking other countermeasures against the flood of Asian steel imports. The company in August idled two plants in Pennsylvania and Texas without restart dates, out of fear for oversupply. An official of U.S. Steel said more drastic measures, such as downsizing manpower, would probably not be necessary. Some speculate that the shutdown may be to convince the ITC into imposing additional duties on foreign rivals.

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