Lawmakers, steel companies and unions urged a trade panel yesterday to keep steel tariffs on some foreign imports for five more years. Automakers and appliance manufacturers...

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WASHINGTON — Lawmakers, steel companies and unions urged a trade panel yesterday to keep steel tariffs on some foreign imports for five more years. Automakers and appliance manufacturers said it’s time to let competition back into the market.

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) is reviewing penalties put in place in 1999 to stop a flood of low-priced hot-rolled steel from Brazil, Japan and Russia.

A second wave of steel imports from 11 other countries led to additional tariffs in 2002, which President Bush lifted in late 2003.

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“Unfortunately, unfairly traded imports of hot-rolled steel have continued to plague this industry and continued to harm steelworkers and their families,” Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, told the panel. “Now is not the time to terminate relief as the domestic hot-rolled steel industry has only just begun to recover.”

About 24 other lawmakers from steel-producing states, including Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Illinois, also testified in favor of keeping the tariffs.

But domestic manufacturers such as Ford, General Motors, Maytag, Whirlpool and auto-parts maker Dana of Toledo, told the trade panel the tariffs are causing higher steel prices and harming their business.

“We believe that the restitutions in this case are no longer needed,” said Jeff Engel, executive director for U.S. production purchasing at Ford. “The industry has consolidated, it is competitive, it has recorded record profits and it is improving.”

The U.S. steel industry has rebounded and reorganized since the tariffs were first ordered.

International Steel Group was born after merging several bankrupt steel companies, including LTV and Weirton Steel, while U.S. Steel and Nucor each acquired other companies.

In 2004, the industry turned its first profit in years. But steel companies and unions say one year does not make a trend.

They want the ITC to continue the tariffs so they can earn enough cash to ensure financial viability, make capital investments and fund retiree benefits.

Trade commissioners at yesterday’s hearing are to decide by mid-April whether those imports would harm the U.S. steel industry, a key finding that would guarantee continuation of the tariffs.