Time running out for new US-Russia steel deal

WASHINGTON, Nov 2 (Reuters) - The United States is posed to slap steep anti-dumping duties on Russian hot-rolled steel in early December if the two sides cannot work out a new agreement in the coming weeks, U.S. industry and government sources said on Friday.

At issue is a 1999 pact that established a minimum price for Russian hot-rolled steel sold in the United States. The case pits Nucor Corp and other U.S. producers against Russian steel companies including JSC Severstal, Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel and Novolipetsk Steel.

The U.S. Commerce Department earlier this year made a preliminary determination that the reference price set in the 1999 deal was too low based on current market conditions to protect U.S. producers from harmful imports.

The deadline for a final decision in that review is Friday, Nov. 30, although the department is expected to make its announcement on Monday, Dec. 3.

In the meantime, department official have also been in talks with the Russia goverment on a new agreement that would raise the minimum price for Russian hot-rolled steel.

``Commerce would prefer to reach a consensus with the Russian government on a revision to the agreement, but it must do so by the same Nov. 30 deadline,'' a Commerce Department official said, speaking on condition he not be identified.

``Moreover, due to certain regulatory requirements, the two sides would need to agree in principle on a revision to the agreement within the next week,'' the official said.

Roger Schagrin, a trade attorney who filed the original anti-dumping case against Russia back in 1998, said U.S. producers won duties ranging from about 60 percent to 165 percent at the time. However, those duties were ``suspended'' by the agreement between the two countries.

If the two sides cannot reach a new deal, then the suspension agreement ``would be revoked and the dumping order would be instituted,'' said Schagrin, whose clients include California Steel Industries, Gallatin Steel Company, Geneva Steel, IPSCO Steel and Weirton Steel Corp.

U.S. law requires affected parties have an opportunity to comment on changes to a suspension agreement, which is why a draft agreement is needed soon, Schagrin said.