Domestic steel makers are being "seriously injured" by imports of 12 of 33 steel products under investigation by the U.S. International Trade Commission, the ITC concluded in a preliminary finding. The panel is scheduled to give President Bush its recommendations for import restrictions on Dec. 19. These may include quotas, tariffs or some combination of both.

Product categories in which the six ITC commissioners concluded imports caused injury include carbon & alloy welded tubular products and flanges. Also, the commissioners split their vote for stainless steel flanges. They voted down claims of injury in most steel piping categories, including seamless carbon & alloy, seamless OCTG, welded OCTG, and both seamless and welded stainless steel pipe. The Bush administration is widely expected to follow the commissioners' recommendations in taking action.

The action comes amid a steel industry crisis in which 25 domestic steel companies have filed for bankruptcy since 1998. Prices of many steel products have dropped staggering amounts due to foreign competition. For instance, according to Kelly Pipe Co. President Earle Cohen, approximate prices for 6-in. standard ERW carbon steel pipe have declined from $560 per ton in 1990 to about $360 today, a drop of 36% in real dollars.

"Improved technology accounts for only a small part of the decline," says Cohen. "The largest factors are excess worldwide capacity of steel and other countries selling their products into the largest market in the world at prices below their costs, which is known as illegal dumping."

The American Pipe Fittings Association issued a statement saying they were "encouraged that the International Trade Commission recognizes that the U.S. pipe fitting manufacturers are being seriously injured by unfairly traded imports. All of the carbon and stainless steel pipe fittings subject to the 201 trade case received affirmative votes, including such products as couplings, fittings, flanges and pipe nipples."

The Bush administration surprised most observers by departing from its staunch support of free trade to pursue the ITC investigation. It has until Feb. 19 to approve the commission's recommendations.