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Last Updated: Friday, 28 November, 2003, 15:28 GMT
US may be backing down over steel
Steelworker
Steel has become an emotive international trade issue
Speculation is mounting that the US is to cancel - or at least reduce - its controversial steel import tariffs.

It follows the news that Washington has persuaded the World Trade Organisation to delay a final ruling on the tariffs.

American Institute for International Steel president David Phelps said the question was now when rather than if Washington stands down.

The US provoked fury in Europe and Asia last year when it protecting its own industry by taxing steel imports.

Political measures?

The WTO has agreed to delay for nine days its final ruling on the matter, giving the US more time to respond.

The trade body has already ruled the tariffs to be illegal, but is waiting to rubber stamp the decision following an appeal from the US.

The EU has warned the US that it was ready to enforce sanctions on up to $2.2bn (1.3bn) within five days of the WTO giving final approval to its ruling.

EU spokesman Fabian Delcros said: "If the delay allows the US time to withdraw the protectionist measures, that is better for everybody."

The US imposed the steel tariffs in 2002, saying it was protecting domestic steel producers against unfairly cheap imports.

Critics claim the tariffs were a political measure designed to protect jobs and win favour for George W. Bush in three pivotal steel producing states ahead of next year's presidential election.

Threatened

The official reason given by the US for seeking the delay from the WTO is that it did not expect the rubber stamping meeting to take place until 10 December, the legal deadline for it to withdraw its tariffs.

Most commentators believe the US is now planning to either remove, or at least, reduce its duties.

The potential change of stance from the US has been attributed to the threat of retaliatory action and the fact that the tariffs have not had the desired impact.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Jeremy Howell
"When tariffs were imposed last year, there were scenes of delight [in the US]"



SEE ALSO:
Bush 'timely' tariff decision vow
20 Nov 03  |  Politics
China retaliates to US import cap
20 Nov 03  |  Business
Bush mulls end to steel tariffs
13 Nov 03  |  Business


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