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Some question whether steel tariffs are high enough

Workers secure multiple-ton coils of steel for unloading on July 14 by crane from the cargo ship Selinda at the Logistec USA terminal at the Adm. Harold E. Shear State Pier in New London, Conn. The United States has imposed huge tariffs on Chinese-made steel, but steelmakers and analysts wonder if the duties on other countries are high enough.

The U.S. Department of Commerce grabbed big headlines when it slapped China with tariffs of as much as 227 percent on cold-rolled steel and 255.8 percent on corrosion-resistant steel over the last few weeks.

But though many in the industry say China is at the root of the current import crisis, analysts and steelmakers have questioned whether the tariffs against other countries are high enough to offer much relief.

Corrosion-resistant steel from India faces much more modest tariffs of 6.64 percent to 6.92 percent, according to the preliminary Department of Commerce ruling. Italian steelmakers are looking at duties of up to 3.11 percent, while Korean steel companies will get tariffs that range from 2.99 percent to 3.51 percent.

Taiwan escaped anti-dumping duties for corrosion-resistant steel altogether, while Korea only received bare minimum tariffs of 0.18 percent to 0.61 percent. Cold-rolled steel tariffs are 4.45 percent on India, 6.33 percent on Russia and 7.42 percent on Brazil.

Steel industry analyst Charles Bradford said the tariffs might not make that much of a difference. 

"There's this whole idea that the industry is going to be the beneficiary of these trade cases," Bradford said. "The Chinese ruling (on cold-rolled steel) was a crock. They got hit with big tariffs after they stopped shipping coil two years ago."

During its economic boom, China had been producing a historically unprecedented 800 million tons of steel a year, or more than eight times as much as the United States. But China's economy eventually slowed, leaving it with an estimated 400 million to 500 million tons of overcapacity.

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Steelmakers across the globe fault China for dumping the excess steel, which triggers a domino effect that leads other countries to dump their excess steel in the United States.

AK Steel, which filed trade cases along with ArcelorMittal and U.S. Steel, said tariffs aren't high enough against other countries that are dumping steel on American shores. 

"We are disappointed that the preliminary dumping margins for India, Italy, South Korea, and Taiwan were not higher as they do not appear to adequately address the dumping that we believe is occurring in the U.S. market," AK Steel President and Chief Executive Officer James Wainscott said.

The tariffs are already being imposed by the U.S. Customs Department, but analysts have said other countries could still afford to send imports in. 

The flow of imports, however, does appear to be slowing. Net steel imports fell by 23 percent in November and trail 2014 by 11 percent, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.

Cheap imports have inflicted damage on U.S. steelmakers by taking away volume and also suppressing prices to the point where it's difficult to turn a profit. But domestic steelmakers have been raising prices, and the price hikes finally seem to be sticking, Bradford said.

"Hot-rolled was up by $10 and it was sticking," he said. "But a little turn doesn't mean a trend."

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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.