The Bush administration launched an investigation of imports of butt-weld pipe fittings, flanges and other steel products on June 22, which will be carried out by the U.S. International Trade Commission. The ITC is a federal agency that specializes in examining imports that cause injury to domestic industries. This action was the result of years of effort by U.S. steel makers to combat the influx of foreign steel products into the United States.

Whatever the outcome of the ITC's investigation, this move by President Bush has ensured that the U.S. market for fittings and flanges will be in turmoil for months to come, as manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors try to prepare for a possible sharp reduction in foreign supplies.

Under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974, the International Trade Commission must determine whether the increase in steel imports is a substantial cause of serious injury to the domestic industry. The ITC has four months in which to complete its investigation. If the ITC concludes that the foreign steel imports are causing injury, then it has an additional two months to prepare a recommendation to the president on how to remedy the situation. Remedies may include increases in tariffs, limitations on the volume of imports, or combinations of these measures. The president then has two months to decide whether to accept, revise or reject the recommendations. Any remedy imposed by the president may be in place for up to four years, with possible extension for another four years.

The investigation will include carbon and alloy steel butt-weld pipe fittings (both forgings and finished products), carbon and alloy steel flanges (finished only), various other pipe and tube products, as well as many carbon and alloy flat products, carbon and alloy long products, and stainless steel and alloy tool steel products.