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The U.S. Department of Commerce is slapping countervailing tariffs on cold-rolled steel from Brazil, China, India and Russia.

The federal agency found China and other countries had been subsidizing their steelmakers by as much as 227 percent, allowing companies such as Angang Group Hong Kong Co. and Benxi Iron and Steel to sell steel here for less than what unsubsidized American steelmakers can.

"Our government's investigation of cold rolled steel imports is a small step toward the immediate action America's steel industry needs against the continued job stealing by foreign government illegal subsidization and the resulting steel flooding into our markets," United Steel Workers President Leo Gerard said.  

"State-owned steel companies in China have grossly expanded steel production capacity to stratospheric, uncontrolled levels that are wrecking American steelworkers' jobs and the communities where they live. We now have thousands of layoffs at the iron ore mines in Minnesota plus the steel mills in Granite City, Ill., Birmingham, Ala., and Northern Indiana as families enter the year-end holiday season."

ArcelorMittal, AK Steel, U.S. Steel, Nucor Corp. and Fort Wayne-based Steel Dynamics requested tariffs back in July. The countries they target exported nearly $900 million worth of steel to the United States last year.

In a preliminary determination, the Commerce Department decided to place 227 percent tariffs on all cold-rolled products from China, to offset the high subsidies those companies receive. Duties of 7.42 percent will be placed on Brazilian steelmakers, while steel producers in Indian and Russia will face tariffs of 4.45 percent and 6.33 percent respectively.

Those rates are meant to offset, or countervail, subsidies that governments in those countries give to their steelmakers.

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Foreign steelmakers will have a chance to rebut the case made against them in a hearing before the Commerce Department reaches a final decision.

"AK Steel is pleased that the Commerce Department has made a preliminary ruling that certain imports of cold-rolled steel are being unfairly subsidized," AK Steel President and CEO James Wainscott said.

"The domestic steel industry continues to suffer devastating injury caused by dumped and subsidized imports.  Today's preliminary ruling is yet another important step in stopping the flood of these unfairly traded imports."

Imports have captured a record 30 percent of the market share for the U.S. consumption of steel. Steelmakers have idled mills, laid off thousands of workers nationwide and attempted to slash health care benefits.

"Tens-of-thousands of American steelworkers should know their jobs and the industry will get some protection from this preliminary duty order from our government to level the playing field for steel sold in our market," USW Vice President Tim Conway said.

"We especially appreciate the Commerce Department's naming several mandatory foreign respondent companies in China as big violators of our trade laws."

The Commerce Department will next decide on anti-dumping duties of up to 320.45 percent for those four countries, and also South Korea, Japan and the United Kingdom. A decision is expected by Feb. 23.

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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.