Administration announces final steel exclusion list for this year, exempting another 178 products from high tariffs

Thursday, August 22nd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Bush administration, seeking to head off a trade war with its major allies, announced Thursday it had decided to exclude another 178 steel products from protective tariffs imposed in March to give the battered domestic industry time to reorganize and become more competitive.

The latest batch of exclusions brought to 727 the number of products the administration has decided to exempt from the tariffs, which ranged as high as 30 percent.

U.S. steel companies have complained that the administration was granting too many exclusion requests, but the announcements have been greeted with approval from major trading partners, including the 15-nation European Union and Japan.

The administration had estimated on July 11, when the exempted steel products totaled 247, that this represented nearly 6 percent of the 13.1 million metric tons covered by President Bush's March tariff order.

Two U.S. trade officials who briefed reporters Thursday refused repeated requests to provide a new estimate of the total amount of steel excluded now that 480 more products had been added to the exclusion list. They said the figure on metric tons was still being computed.

The two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the bulk of requests for exclusions had come from steel companies operating in Europe and Japan.

Bush's decision to grant broad protective tariffs to the steel industry in March grew out of promises he and running mate Dick Cheney made during the 2000 presidential campaign to steel workers, saying a Republican administration would not forget them, implying that President Clinton had.

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

Trade officials in other countries complained bitterly about the Bush action in March to impose the tariffs ranging from 8 percent up to 30 percent for a period of three years. They said the decision violated World Trade Organization rules. However, as the exemptions have been granted, the EU and Japan have both backed off threats to impose immediate sanctions although they are continuing to pursue a WTO case against the U.S. action.

The administration said the latest group of exclusions was the ``seventh and final' group to be granted exemptions from the tariffs this year. However, the administration said it would allow steel consumers to make new requests beginning in November for further exclusions. It said this review would be completed in March of next year.

The 178 products covered in the final group for this year covered a broad range of steel categories including plate, hot-rolled, cold-rolled, corrosion-resistant, tin mill and stainless. A government fact sheet said the steel being exempted from the tariffs was produced in a number of countries.

``The decision to exclude these products was based upon a full consideration of information submitted by U.S. steel consumers, U.S. steel producers and foreign steel producers,'' the Commerce Department and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said in a joint statement. ``This is part of the administration's objective of providing relief only where needed in the steel industry and to avoid burdening U.S. steel consumers.''