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U.S. steelmakers have been taking a beating from cheap foreign imports, and they're responded by idling plants and laying off thousands of workers nationwide.

Now they're fighting back.

Six steelmakers, including ArcelorMittal USA and U.S. Steel, have filed anti-dumping and countervailing duties charges against five countries that are accused of dumping corrosion-resistant steel. Fort Wayne-based Steel Dynamics Inc. AK Steel, California Steel Industries and Nucor Corp. also joined in the filing of a petition with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the United States International Trade Commission.

The trade case charges China, India, Italy, South Korea and Taiwan with illegally importing steel made with significant government subsidies, which violates international trade law. They're also accused of significantly undercutting the prices of domestic steelmakers, by charging less than is fair.

Overall, low-cost steel imports now account for 32 percent of the market share for finished steel products, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute. U.S. Steel has sent layoff notices to one quarter of its workforce, and ArcelorMittal has shuttered East Chicago finishing lines and said it needs to make its U.S. operations more efficient.

"AK Steel and the domestic industry have been facing a tidal wave of what we believe are unfairly dumped and subsidized imports of corrosion-resistant steel coming into this country," AK Steel President and CEP James Wainscott said in a statement.

"These unfairly traded imports have seriously impacted pricing in the U.S. market, which has resulted in a significant negative effect on our production, sales and earnings."

Domestic steelmakers allege the countries dumped steel at margins between 71 percent and 123 percent. The corrosion-resistant steel in question – sheet that's been coated or plated to extend its life – is used in cars, manufacturing and infrastructure. 

Gary Works and ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor make the metal, which is widely used in roofing, siding, bridge decks, guard rails, culverts, trucks, appliances, industrial equipment and agricultural machinery.

Imports up by 85 percent in three years

Imports of corrosion-resistant steel from China, India, Italy, South Korea and Taiwan have increased by 85 percent from 2012 to 2014, according to the complaint filed. 

The five countries went from importing 1.5 million tons in 2012 to 2.75 million tons in 2014, or about $2.2 billion worth of the metal.

The imports jumped further by 33 percent in the first quarter, to 800,000 tons.

United Steelworkers International President Leo Gerard called on the federal government to act quickly to save jobs.

"By any metric, USW members are the most productive and efficient steelmaking workforce on the planet," Gerard said.

"We cannot allow these family-supporting, community-sustaining jobs to disappear because our competitors continue unfairly dumping their subsidized products on our shores."

Gov. Mike Pence said during a visit to Gary Works last week the state of Indiana would back the petition to the International Trade Commission.

Last year, steelmakers won a trade case against foreign imports of tubular steel for the oil and natural gas industry. But the victory was short-lived because a plunge in the price of crude oil wiped out the demand for such products.

A growing chorus among steelmakers and union members is that the system needs to be fixed, so tariffs can be secured before workers are laid off and plants closed — not after. The USW in particular has been calling for new trade policies and tougher enforcement.

"For decades, American workers have paid the price of failed trade policies and inconsistent enforcement of flawed trade agreements," International Vice President Tom Conway said.

"Congress and the administration need to take responsibility for changing the system that has cost more than a million manufacturing jobs and shuttered thousands of factories, mainly in industries that employ USW members."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.