White House looks to soften blow as steel tariffs removed

Thursday, December 4, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The administration is searching for ways to soften the impact on the domestic steel industry if President Bush withdraws steep tariffs on imports as expected.

The proposals under consideration, industry officials say, include early reporting requirements to detect possible surges of steel into the United States.

The administration was expected to announce Bush's decision around midday today, barring last-minute snags, one administration official said on condition of anonymity.

Bush held a late-night meeting in the Oval Office with Vice President Dick Cheney, Commerce Secretary Don Evans and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick after returning Tuesday from a fund-raising trip to Pittsburgh where he encountered last-minute lobbying from the steel industry.

White House advisers are urging Bush to abandon the tariffs he imposed on various types of foreign steel in March 2002 in an effort to protect the U.S. industry, reeling from bankruptcies and the loss of thousands of jobs, from foreign imports for three years.

The World Trade Organization has ruled the tariffs violate global trade rules, and the 15-nation European Union and Japan are vowing to impose retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products when the ruling becomes final later this month. The EU hit list targets $2.2 billion in products from orange juice to pajamas from politically important states such as Florida, California and the Carolinas.

Administration officials said Bush has yet to make a final decision on lifting the tariffs. But industry officials in contact with the administration said they expected the president to remove the tariffs to avoid foreign retaliation.

The industry officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the administration was looking at many ways to provide help to domestic steel producers once the tariffs were removed. One of the proposals would keep in place an additional monitoring program on steel imports that went into effect when Bush first imposed the tariffs in 2002.

That program requires importers of foreign steel to apply for import licenses for the foreign steel, giving the government a quicker way to detect possible import surges. Under previous procedures, information on steel imports data was collected only after the steel products arrived at U.S. ports.

The steel officials said the administration likely would pledge to continue international talks for reducing excess global steel capacity.

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