WTO dispute panel to hear US complaint on EU steel curbs


The World Trade Organisation (WTO) yesterday set up a dispute panel to hear a US complaint against restrictions on steel imports imposed by the European Union last March in immediate response to steel import curbs introduced by Washington.

This latest move in the transatlantic steel spat comes just before the European Commission is due to recommend late this week or early next whether the EU should impose trade sanctions worth up to €379 million in retaliation for the US steel tariffs.

However, reflecting the desire of both sides to calm the dispute, Commission officials said the EU was unlikely to go ahead with rapid retaliation after seven successive announcements by the US of exemptions from the duties.

"There's no final decision but it would be very difficult for the EU to go ahead with sanctions now," said one official.

In July, the EU delayed its decision pending the announcement by the US of more exemptions from the tariffs, and a further list of exclusions was unveiled in late August.

The latest WTO panel is due to report next spring, just after a panel set up before the summer to investigate the legality of the US measures at the request of the EU and seven other countries.

Appeals could delay definitive rulings until late 2003.

Brussels has defended its provisional safeguard measures on 15 steel products, which expire at the end of this month, by claiming they were needed to prevent steel barred from the US market being diverted to Europe.

However, the US said the EU move was illegal under WTO safeguard rules because Brussels had not carried out a prior investigation to show its domestic industry was suffering from an import surge.

The EU has now told the WTO that its investigation, initiated in March when the temporary safeguards were put in place, confirms "serious injury" from higher imports of seven of the 15 product lines.

Those seven, involving a dozen steel-producing countries including the US, will be subject to EU safeguard restrictions until March 2005.

The US confirmed yesterday it would appeal against a WTO panel report condemning a US law known as the Byrd amendment, which gives the proceeds of anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties to the companies that filed the suits, who complain that cheap imports have undermined their business.

The panel, which heard a joint complaint from the EU and 10 other countries, called for the law to be repealed. - (Financial Times Service)