EU steelmakers are set to ask the European Commission as soon as tomorrow to impose anti-dumping duties on Chinese steel imports, an industry official said, signalling what could be the start of a major trade dispute.
European steel firms have been working for months towards filing formal complaints with the European Union's executive after a surge in Chinese steel exports to the 27-nation bloc.
"It will probably be (this) week, perhaps as soon as Monday," the official told Reuters yesterday, asking not to be named.
The official declined to give details of the complaints but said they affected "more than one" type of steel product.
European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson has voiced increasing frustration with China for not taking enough action about its snowballing trade surplus with the EU, and he has cited steel as a specific problem.
Chinese steel exports to the EU are set to double in 2007 to about 10 million tonnes from record levels in 2006, the European Confederation of Iron and Steel Industries (Eurofer) estimates.
Mandelson told Reuters yesterday that the steelmakers appeared to have a case.
"I have indicated already to steel producers that on the face of it they have a case for opening such an investigation, but I can't say at this stage what conclusion it will reach," he said on the sidelines of an EU-Russia summit in Portugal. Another Commission official said the case was complex.
European engineering groups, which are big consumers of steel, have urged Brussels not to hit China with anti-dumping duties, arguing that far more jobs in Europe are linked to using steel than producing it.
A move to impose duties would have to be approved by a majority of the EU's member states. About half of them are often reluctant to take measures to slow imports and there have been big battles over textiles and shoes from China in recent years.
The European Commission would have up to 45 days upon receiving a request for anti-dumping duties to decide whether to launch an investigation.
Depending on the outcome, it could then impose provisional anti-dumping duties within nine months, followed six months later by definitive duties that would normally last five years.
Eurofer says the EU is being increasingly targeted by a subsidised industry in China because the United States already levies anti-dumping duties on some steel products.
Eurofer officials have previously said they were working on requests for anti-dumping duties on products such as wire rod and cold rolled stainless steel products. ( Gulf )