U.S. steelmakers file trade case over imports from China

Steelmakers including Charlotte-based Nucor Corp. and U.S. Steel Corp. filed a trade complaint alleging that imports of corrosion-resistant metal from China and four other countries are being sold in the U.S. at unfairly low prices.

The suit also cites imports from India, Italy, South Korea and Taiwan, according to a petition filed Wednesday with federal regulators by U.S. Steel, Nucor, Steel Dynamics Inc., AK Steel Holding Corp., and ArcelorMittal.

As domestic mills struggle in the marketplace, producers are also seeking help in Congress. A bill that would require regulators to consider reduced market share, idled capacity and nine other factors when weighing unfair trade complaints has been approved by the U.S. Senate. It is backed by President Barack Obama and Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade.

“Now it’s looking highly likely that this reform that they’ve been pushing for for years will finally be passed,” Caitlin Webber, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, said in an interview. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they got Congress and the President on board with their provision and it’s just now that they’re filing.”

The American steel industry is under pressure from record imports as foreign rivals take advantage of rising demand in the U.S. and the stronger dollar. U.S. producers are asking regulators to impose anti-dumping duties on corrosion resistant steel from some producers in the five countries named in the complaint.

Steel coated with zinc or aluminum to prevent rust from those countries represented 67 percent of imports to the U.S. in 2014, according to the complaint. That year, the U.S. imported 4.1 million tons of corrosion-resistant steel, out of domestic consumption of 20.8 million tons.

Profit Forecasts

Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel, the nation’s second-largest producer, cut its full-year profit forecast in April. A month earlier Nucor, the biggest steelmaker, cut its first-quarter earnings projection, blaming imports.

The price of hot-rolled steel coil, which is processed into other steel products or used in appliances and building, has tumbled by 33 percent in the last 12 months as imports have surged, claiming 34 percent of the 117.6 million ton U.S. market in 2014.

The U.S. Commerce Department and U.S. International Trade Commission will hear the complaint.

With assistance from Brian Wingfield in Washington.