* Action another big win for U.S. Steelworkers union
* U.S. imports of good tripled in 2008 to $2.63 billion
* More U.S. cases in pipeline before Obama heads to Asia (Updates with Commerce Department release)
WASHINGTON, Nov 5 (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday slapped preliminary anti-dumping duties ranging up to 99 percent on Chinese-made oil well pipe in the biggest U.S. trade action against China.
The preliminary Commerce Department decision came a week before President Barack Obama heads to Asia on a trip that includes stops in Shanghai and Beijing.
It follows Obama’s decision in September to put a 35 percent duty on Chinese-made tires in response to a petition from the United Steelworkers union.
Obama is expected to stress the need for the United States and China to work together to revive global economic growth and avoid protectionism that could endanger recovery.
The Steelworkers, who campaigned hard for Obama during last year’s presidential race and are an important ally in his fight to win approval of comprehensive healthcare reform in Congress, were also a driving force in the oil well pipe case.
Since taking office in January, the Obama administration has initiated at least a dozen anti-dumping or countervailing duty investigations against products from China in response to petitions filed by industry and union groups.
The U.S. International Trade Commission will vote on Friday whether to approve three more probes covering coated paper, certain standard steel fasteners and sodium and potassium phosphate salts from China.
The preliminary duties announced on Thursday by the Commerce Department included a 36.53 percent levy on certain “oil country tubular goods” produced or exported by Tianjin Pipe International Economic and Trading Corp, Zhejiang Jianli Co Ltd, Wuxi Seamless Pipe Co and unspecified other companies.
Commerce also set a preliminary 99.14 percent “China-wide” anti-dumping duty on other producers and exporters.
“China’s government and exporters are being told we are fed up with their cheating on our fair trade laws and penalties for these transgressions are long overdue,” Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said in a statement praising the action.
COMPANIES JOINED PETITION
Maverick Tube Corp, United States Steel Corp X.N, TMK IPSCO, V&M Star LLP, Wheatland Tube Corp and Evraz Rocky Mountain Steel joined the Steelworkers in April in asking the Commerce Department for the import curbs.
U.S. companies imported $2.63 billion of oil country tubular goods from China in 2008, more than three times the $750 million they imported in 2007.
That makes it the largest U.S. trade action against China, topping Obama’s decision to slap a 35 percent tariff on about $1.85 billion of Chinese-made tires.
The Commerce Department is expect to officially announce the preliminary duties later on Thursday.
They reflect the department’s determination of how far below “fair market value” Chinese companies are selling steel pipe and tubing product in the United States.
They are in addition to preliminary countervailing duties of 10.69 percent to 30.69 percent the Commerce Department announced in September to offset Chinese government subsidies to encourage production of the steel goods.
The Commerce Department decided one of China’s largest OCTG exporters, Jiangsu Changbao Steel Co, was not guilty of dumping in the United States.
“We question why Changbao was singled out as if they were the only one among 75 other pipe exporters who were considered not in violation. We plan to challenge this finding as the case proceeds in our government’s investigation,” Gerard said.
Changbao was hit in September with a preliminary 24.33 percent countervailing duty rate.
The Commerce Department will make its final calculations of anti-dumping and countervailing duties next year.
In the meantime, importers are required to post bonds or cash deposits based on the preliminary rates.
The ITC could overturn the duties if it determines U.S. companies have not been harmed or threatened with harm by the imports. That vote is set for May 2010. (Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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