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Germany Slams U.S. Steel Imports Probe--Update

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04/21/2017 | 01:16pm CEST
By Andrea Thomas 

BERLIN--Germany criticized the U.S. decision to launch a national security probe into steel imports and urged Washington to respect international World Trade Organization rules.

Economics Minister Brigitte Zypries said proposed anti-dumping duties against German steel companies were unjustified because the U.S. calculation of dumping margins violated WTO rules, adding that the move "gives reason for concern."

Dumping involves foreign manufacturers selling steel below production costs and home-market value.

Ms. Zypries said she would address the issue in a phone call with her U.S. counterpart Wilbur Ross next week and during a trip to the U.S. at the end of May.

"We...are working directly with the American side to ensure that WTO regulations are complied with," Ms. Zypries said. "The German economics ministry will ensure that German companies won't be disadvantaged in international trade."

The comments come after U.S. President Donald Trump's administration on Thursday opened a wide-ranging probe into whether to curb steel imports in the name of national security, ramping up its campaign to give a more nationalist slant to U.S. trade policy.

In Germany, the companies affected include Salzgitter AG and AG der Dillinger Hüttenwerke.

It remains unclear just how far Mr. Trump will go in trying to block steel imports, as opposed to using the threat to win concessions from trading partners. The trade law he invoked requires a study that must be submitted to a U.S. Department of Commerce agency that independently assesses the national security claim. That agency regularly rejects such claims, as it did when members of Congress asked for national security protection for steel in 2001.

Over recent weeks, Germany has strongly criticized Department of Commerce plans announced on March 30 to propose anti-dumping duties against German steel companies, accusing the U.S. of intentionally violating WTO rules with the aim of damaging international rivals.

Berlin urged the European Commission, which is in charge of European Union trade policies, to encourage the WTO to take legal action against the U.S. for allegedly breaching its rules.

A spokesman for trade issues at the EU's executive, the European Commission, said Brussels has taken note of the investigation.

"It's too early to speculate on the potential impact," said spokesman Daniel Rosario. "We are following it, we expressed our concerns concerning the methodology used. We will assess the situation and decide the appropriate course of action."

Brussels has previously raised its disagreement with the U.S. methodology in calculating steel dumping, questioning its compatibility with WTO rules. As for Berlin's request that the EU challenge the U.S. moves at WTO, Mr. Rosario said the American procedures are still under way and that Brussels is monitoring them.

Germany has urged Brussels to take action against the U.S. move.

"If the U.S. got its way with unfair competition then other industrial sectors would face a similar risk," Germany Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel warned last month.

Germany's Salzgitter has criticized what the steelmaker described as stiff anti-dumping duties on some of its products.

"We...find the decision of the DOC and the level of anti-dumping duties on our products incomprehensible," Salzgitter said on April 10.

The company said it had provided U.S. authorities with large amounts of data to and hadn't itself found examples of anything that constituted dumping.

The Department of Commerce had decided in March to impose an anti-dumping duty of 22.9% on Salzgitter's future plate deliveries to the U.S., the company said.

Friedrich Geiger in Berlin contributed to this article.

Write to Andrea Thomas at andrea.thomas@wsj.com

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