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Steel Import Debate Splits U.S. Manufacturers With PM-Business Mirror, Bjt

April 27, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ America’s steel-using manufacturers are split over whether steel import quotas should be extended by the Bush administration when they expire in the fall.

A coalition of manufacturers opposed to the quotas got some competition Wednesday when a rival group led by Chrysler, Maytag and others was announced to lobby on behalf of the import curbs.

The new group claimed to have enlisted 374 members, including makers of automobiles, home appliances, marine products, beverage cans, tableware and farm equipment.

The only thing the two coalitions have in common is that all their members use steel as a raw material.

The Coalition for a Competitive America was unveiled at a Capitol press conference Wednesday by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and executives from Chrysler Corp. of Detroit, Crown Cork and Seal Co. of Philadelphia, Milton Can Co. of Elizabeth, N.J., UNR-Leavitt of Chicago, Maytag Corp. of Newton, Iowa, and others.

Organizers said the coalition was created to help make the case for continuing steel import quotas due to expire Sept. 30.

″Domestic steel producers have proven they can compete with any steel producer in the world,″ said Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Steel Caucus. ″But they cannot compete with foreign governments that pump billions of dollars in subsidies into their state-owned steel operations.″

The Reagan administration negotiated five-year, product-by-product ″voluntary restraint agreements″ in 1984 with Japan, South Korea, Brazil, South Africa, the European Community and other nations to limit the flow of foreign steel into the United States.

Three days before last November’s election, President Bush pledged to continue the restraints in some form. But with the U.S. steel industry newly profitable, opponents of the curbs believe they can make a case for ending the program, or at least narrowing its scope.

The quota opponents have been led in part by Caterpillar Inc. of Peoria, Ill. Caterpillar is part of the Coalition of American Steel Using Manufacturers, a 300-member group that claims quotas have driven up steel prices and caused product shortages.

Members of the new coalition said they formed the group to show that steel- consuming manufacturers are not widely opposed to trade protection, as the older group suggests.

Chrysler spokesman Richard Muller, UNR-Leavitt President Roy A. Herman, Maytag government affairs counsel Douglass Horstman and Crown Cork and Seal Vice President-Purchasing Ronald Thoma released statements chronicling how the quotas had helped turn the ailing steel industry around.

Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the Senate and House that would enable the Bush administration to begin negotiating new quota agreements with America’s steel-trading partners.

But Samuel Berger, counsel for the older Coalition of American Steel Using Manufacturers, said in a telephone interview that the new group was already on the defensive.

″I think they are concerned that the debate here has been expanded beyond simply what’s good for the steel industry. We’ve succeeded in getting people to understand that the debate is over what’s good for the overall economy,″ Berger said.

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