United States exempts additional 295 products from stiff steel tariffs

Friday, March 21st 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The administration on Friday announced it had decided to exempt an additional 295 foreign steel products from stiff tariffs aimed at giving the U.S. industry protection against imports.

The administration's action brings to 1,022 the total number of foreign steel products that have won a reprieve from the high tariffs that President Bush imposed a year ago as part of a three-year plan to give the domestic industry breathing room to modernize.

Along with the new exemptions, the administration, as scheduled under Bush's original order, announced that it was lowering the top tariff from 30 percent, the level in effect for the past year, to 24 percent. The bottom tariff rate, which had been at 8 percent, was lowered to 7 percent.

The new exemptions cover a broad range of steel products including plate, hot-rolled, cold-rolled, stainless steel, pipe and tubes.

The Commerce Department and the office of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said it had been determined that the products were not produced in sufficient quantity to meet demands of U.S. steel users.

The government also said it had been determined that granting the new exemptions "would not undermine the effectiveness of the safeguard on steel products."

The new exemptions came from a group of 661 product exclusion requests filed late last year by domestic steel users and foreign steel companies.

Of the 295 requests that were granted, the government's fact sheet said that 208 had not received any objections from the domestic steel industry.

The administration's original announcement in March 2002 that it would impose stiff tariffs ranging up to 30 percent on 13.1 million metric tons of steel sparked a global trade row. The 15-nation European Union, Japan and other steel producing countries threatened to impose retaliatory tariffs on American products, charging that the U.S. tariffs were in violation of World Trade Organization rules.

However, the administration has been able to defuse much of that initial anger through the exemptions. Last year's exemptions covered about one-fourth of the original 13.1 million metric tons.

The administration said in Friday's announcement that it would announce in March 2004 another round of exemptions based on requests filed at the end of this year.

The three-year program of higher tariffs will end in March 2005.