(Adds detail on stainless steel sinks)
WASHINGTON, March 21 (Reuters) - U.S. steel companies on Thursday urged Congress and the White House to take action against what they said was a flood of unfairly traded steel from China, partly by reforming U.S. trade laws to make it easier to win import protection.
“The government of China’s continued subsidization of its steel industry and manipulation of its currency continues to threaten our future,” Edward Kurasz, an executive vice president at Allied Tube & Conduit, told a congressional panel.
The plea came shortly before the U.S. International Trade Commission approved steep punitive duties on stainless steel sinks from China that the Commerce Department had found were unfairly priced and subsidized.
The decision was a victory for Elkay Manufacturing. The Illinois company has struggled in the face of rising imports from China, which totaled nearly $118 million in 2011.
Kurasz urged Congress to pass legislation directing the Commerce Department to treat undervalued currencies as a subsidy under trade law. That would open the door for more cases seeking countervailing duties on Chinese imports.
He also called for Congress to reform the U.S. International Trade Commission, which last year rejected industry requests for anti-dumping and countervailing duties on galvanized steel wire and circular weld pipe from a variety of countries.
“We are very concerned that the commissioners are not adhering to the laws as written by Congress,” Kurasz said.
The Commerce Department found illegal pricing or subsidies in both cases, but the ITC blocked duties “because domestic industries were showing modest improvement due to increases in demand after the depth of the recession,” he said.
Kurasz also urged the U.S. Trade Representative’s office to work with other governments to bring a World Trade Organization case against China for subsidizing its domestic steel companies in ways that violate global trade rules.
John Ferriola, president of Nucor Corp, told the panel that China has 35 percent more steel-making capacity than it needs to meet domestic demand. Much of China’s extra production is exported to the United States as part of a “surge” that also includes steel from Turkey, South Korea and others, he said.
“Last year, steel imports increased 17 percent from 2011 and a whopping 38 percent from 2010 ... Steel imports were up in every major product area and from most major steel producing countries,” Ferriola said.
The steel company chief also said India, Egypt, and Brazil have all recently taken actions to restrict steel imports, putting further pressure on the U.S. market.
But “China is by far the worst offender. Its highly subsidized steel industry is government owned and controlled, and its market remains heavily distorted and closed to outside competition,” Ferriola said. (Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Christopher Wilson)