Report Says Tariffs Helped U.S. Steel Rebound

Article excerpt

Byline: Jeffrey Sparshott, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Steel tariffs imposed by President Bush last year probably had a slight negative impact on the economy, the U.S. International Trade Commission said in a report released last night.

But the tariffs also gave steelmakers a chance to regain footing in a competitive world market and did not drastically harm small steel consumers, the report said.

"Since imposition of the safeguard measures, the industries producing steel products have undergone major restructuring and consolidation," said the report, which focused separately on steelmakers and steel consumers.

The report is meant to help President Bush decide whether to keep disputed tariffs on steel for their full, three-year term, to eliminate the program sooner, or to find some middle ground in an attempt to placate sensitive political constituents.

The tariffs, fees placed on foreign steel when it crosses the border, have created political problems for the president in the United States and abroad.

The Bush administration is not expected to make a decision on the tariffs immediately.

"A majority of steel-consuming firms indicated that neither continuation or termination of the safeguard measures would change employment, international competitiveness, or capital investment," the report said in a finding that would clearly help the Bush administration maintain the tariffs.

"We will begin a thorough review and analysis of these reports, and will use them as a part of our ongoing review of developments in the steel industry, and the economy more generally, since the imposition of the steel safeguard measures," Richard Mills, a spokesman for the U.S. trade representative, said yesterday before the report was released.

In the United States, steelmakers and their political allies laud the safeguards, but companies that buy steel and make it into parts or finished products say that the protectionist measure has cost revenue and jobs.

President Bush in March 2002 implemented the three-year steel tariffs, as high as 30 percent on some products, to protect an ailing industry. Steelmakers were losing money as high legacy costs drained budgets, and foreign competitors won customers with lower prices.

Some 35 steel companies declared bankruptcy and 54,000 steel jobs were lost from 1997 through 2002, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.

The tariffs were meant to protect U. …