THE EUROPEAN Union is poised to escalate the steel trade war sparked off by the US by imposing curbs on all steel imports into the EU, perhaps as early as tomorrow.
Pascal Lamy, the EU's Trade Commissioner, is expected to announce a range of quotas and tariffs on pounds 7bn worth of steel imports.
The move is designed to prevent countries such as Japan, Korea and Poland dumping steel otherwise destined for the US before the Bush administration imposed swingeing import tariffs last month.
EU member states are expected to back the introduction of strict quotas on steel imports. Any shipments above and beyond this will then be subject to tariffs.
The EU import curbs will last for an initial period of six months. They were proposed in a confidential paper circulated to member states last Friday and are expected to be approved when the EU's "safeguard committee" meets today under the chairmanship of Mr Lamy.
Steel companies, such as the Anglo-Dutch producer Corus, have been pressing for the quotas to be set at a level which reflects the volume of imports into the EU before President Bush first indicated he was planning to impose duties on US steel imports a year ago.
Since the US declared its intentions, there has been a sharp rise in the amount of steel from third countries diverted from the US into the European market.
Steel imports into the EU have rocketed from 23 million tonnes in 1999 to 29 million tonnes last year. In some product categories, such as hot- rolled coil, steel imports doubled between the third quarter of 2000 and the third quarter of last year to 600,000 …