(Includes comments from hearing, Commerce)
By Krista Hughes
WASHINGTON, March 25 (Reuters) - U.S. trade officials should slap duties on super-cheap imports of steel products from South Korea and Turkey, steel industry executives, unions and pro-steel lawmakers said on Tuesday.
Industry boosters urged the Commerce Department to reverse preliminary decisions against complaints by steelmakers with operations in the United States, warning the industry was under threat from imports which were often priced below cost and violated international trade laws.
“The steel industry could be on the verge of elimination,” United Steelworkers president Leo Gerard told a meeting of the Congressional Steel Caucus.
Caucus chair Tim Murphy said Commerce should impose duties on imports of steel tube for the oil and gas industry from South Korea and Turkey, and on rebar from Turkey.
If the department does not change its mind when it hands down final decisions later this year, Congress should consider introducing legislation to help the steel industry, he said.
“The Commerce Department must take a stand now against these violations of international trade law,” the Pennsylvania Republican said at the hearing of the caucus, a bipartisan group of about 100 members of Congress who mostly represent districts with steel manufacturers.
Asked what action Congress could take, Nucor Corp chief executive John Ferriola pointed to former president George W. Bush’s move to place tariffs on imported steel. That came at a time when the industry was also pinched by a surge in imports, forcing many producers out of business.
“(That) was a way to deal with this problem when it got out of hand and reached critical proportions, as it is reaching today,” he said.
Shares of companies that produce so-called “oil country tubular goods” tumbled last month when Commerce opted in a preliminary ruling not to impose duties on goods from South Korea, although it did find that other countries were selling below cost.
The investigation came after a petition from producers including Europe’s Tenaris and Vallourec, North America’s Northwest Pipe Co and U.S. Steel Corp , and Russia’s TMK. All have operations in the United States.
U.S. Steel chief executive Mario Longhi said South Korean producers had fudged the facts by setting up networks of companies to evade U.S. laws and disguise the cost of producing and importing.
“Korea has designed this approach solely to attack our markets here,” he said after the hearing.
“The final decision though is going to be made on July 8 so that’s why we are really acting intensely to make sure that the truth is uncovered.”
Nucor’s Ferriola said business was suffering from cheap imports of rebar, steel used to reinforce concrete, from Turkey and Mexico.
“It has a devastating effect, it’s virtually doubled since 2010 from those two regions and it’s surging again this year,” he told the hearing.
In February, Commerce found imports of Turkish rebar had not been made using subsidies that unfairly benefited foreign companies. A separate ruling is due in April on whether the rebar was sold below market prices.
The case was filed by Gerdau Ameristeel US, Commercial Metals Company, Cascade Steel Rolling Mills and Byer Steel Group as well as Nucor.
In a separate decision in December, the department declined to impose a duty on producers of oil country tubular goods in Turkey, finding that they enjoyed no significant subsidy.
Decisions in the three cases are also subject to final decisions by the U.S. International Trade Commission, which works in tandem with Commerce in deciding trade complaints.
Commerce had no immediate comment. (Additional reporting by Allison Martell; Editing by Ros Krasny and Stephen Powell)