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WASHINGTON (AP) — Subsidized imports of steel bars from five countries are harming American manufacturers, the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled Friday.

The panel’s decision allows the Commerce Department to decide whether to impose tariffs on steel bars, which are used to reinforce concrete.

The disputed steel bars are manufactured in Belarus, China, Korea, Latvia and Moldova.

Eleven American companies filed the complaint.

The six-member commission had previously ruled that imports of steel bars from Indonesia, Poland and Ukraine harm U.S. industry.

The American steel bar industry consists of companies that have mills and/or customers in 30 states. These manufacturers employ more than 3,000 people in total.

Included are all the states east of the Mississippi River as well as Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas.

Lawyers for American and foreign steel bar manufacturers said they wanted to wait until the commission releases an explanation of its decision before commenting on the result.

The commission’s ruling comes at a time of increased scrutiny of foreign steel imports.

Last month, the Bush administration asked the commission to begin a four-month investigation to determine whether domestic producers are being seriously harmed, using a provision of U.S. trade law known as Section 201, which allows for protections against import surges.

If the ITC finds serious injury, it could make recommendations to the administration on what types of punitive tariffs or quotas should be imposed to restrict imports.

Friday’s

decision does not necessarily indicate what the commission will do in the 201 case because the standards of proof are different, said Brink Lindsey, a trade specialist at the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank.

“The standard in a case like this is material injury to American firms. In the 201 case, the standard is serious injury, which is the moral equivalent of being at death’s door,” Lindsey said. “The standards are different when looking at a particular product compared with an entire industry.”

Since a surge of foreign imports began in 1998 as a result of the Asian currency crisis, 18 U.S. steel companies have filed for bankruptcy protection and 20,000 jobs have been cut, according to industry figures.

Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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