EU launches new investigation into Chinese steel imports

The European Union has launched a new investigation into whether Chinese manufacturers are selling steel into Europe at unfairly low prices, a case Beijing said it viewed with deep concern.

The European Commission has determined that a complaint brought by EU steel makers’ association Eurofer regarding certain corrosion resistant steel merits an investigation, the EU’s official journal said on Friday.

The EU has imposed duties on a wide range of steel grades after investigations over the past few years to counter what EU steel producers say is a flood of steel sold at a loss due to Chinese overcapacity.

An official at China’s Commerce Ministry said Beijing attached a “high degree of attention and concern” to the case and that Europe’s steel problems were due to weak economic growth. Blaming China’s excess capacity was baseless.

Wang Hejun, the head of the trade remedies investigation department at China’s Commerce Ministry, said in a statement on the ministry’s website that Europe should rationally analyze the problems facing its steel industry.

“It should not adopt mistaken trade protectionist measures that limit fair market competition,” he said.

Beijing is also irked because the investigation has been launched just days before the 15th anniversary of China’s accession to the World Trade Organization, when it says new trade defense rules should apply.

Under existing rules, the EU can compare Chinese prices with those of another country – in the current case it has chosen Canadian prices. However, Beijing insists this should no longer be possible from Dec. 11.

The European Commission proposed last month a new way of treating China, but its proposals still await approval from the EU’s 28 members and the European Parliament.

Some 5,000 jobs have been axed in the British steel industry in the last year, as it struggles to compete with cheap Chinese imports and high energy costs.

G20 governments recognized in September that steel overcapacity was a serious problem. China, the source of 50 percent of the world’s steel and the largest steel consumer, has said the problem is a global one.

In October, the European Commission set provisional import tariffs of up to 73.7 percent for heavy plate steel and up to 22.6 percent for hot-rolled steel coming from China. Those investigations are set to conclude in April.

In anti-dumping cases, the Commission typically has up to nine months to determine whether there are grounds for imposing provisional duties on a product and then a further six months to determine whether duties should apply as long as five years.