UNITED States producers welcomed a preliminary government ruling that finds that steel imports from a dozen nations are being unfairly subsidized, but a foreign representative said the action threatened to sour trade relations.
One French official estimated that the European Community could lose more than $1 billion in trade if dozens of complaints filed by American steelmakers are successful.
On Nov. 30, the Commerce Department tentatively determined that steel imports from Italy, Germany, France, South Korea, and eight other foreign countries are being unfairly subsidized, and directed the US government to collect deposits to offset the alleged pricing advantage.
A joint statement issued by Bethlehem Steel Corporation, Inland Steel Industries, and several other US producers said the decision "confirms that foreign government subsidies on a massive scale are adversely affecting fair trade of steel in the US market."
But Francis Mer, chairman of France's Usinor Sacilor, which controls most French steel production, said the cases were provoking the threat of a trade war. Speaking in New York City, he said if the cases are successful "Europe cannot but fail to react."
The Commerce Department's decision is part of a process in which more than 70 unfair trade complaints, involving alleged dumping and subsidies, are being reviewed.
US companies say unfair trade has cost thousands of domestic steel jobs.
A final decision by the department is not expected until at least April, but the Customs Service by mid-December will begin requiring from importers a cash deposit or bond equal to the estimated subsidy. If the department sticks with its findings, the 30 cases will go to the International Trade Commission, which will consider the extent of injury to the US industry.