WASHINGTON (AP) _ Legislation designed to address the U.S. steel industry's long-term ability to compete won approval today from a Senate committee.

The Senate Finance Committee took up the bill as an alternative to global quotas, which many committee members opposed and considered a violation of international trade laws. The committee approved the bill, 16-3.

The measure would initiate an investigation into foreign market practices that could insulate foreign producers from fair competition with the U.S. industry.

Those practices include governments giving their producers subsidies and foreign companies flooding the U.S. market with products at prices below production costs.

The legislation would also require the development of a comprehensive government strategy to eliminate those practices and would modify U.S. trade laws to ease U.S. companies' ability to prove injury in certain trade complaints.

Sen. William Roth, R-Del., the committee's chairman, said the bill was designed to ``address the real problem facing the steel industry, the worldwide overcapacity of steel.''

Steel-state lawmakers denounced the bill as too weak and said it offered little short-term relief to an industry that has suffered thousands of layoffs and three company bankruptcies.

``These limited proposals would only put us in a better position to deal with the next steel import crisis,'' said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., vice chairman of the Senate Steel Caucus.

Rockefeller said the measure appeared to be an effort to take votes away from the quota bill, which the House passed overwhelmingly in March, despite the threat of a presidential veto.

The U.S. industry has sought quotas and other sanctions to block low-priced steel imports, which reached record levels last year in the aftermath of the Asian economic crisis.