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17.3.1.  Steel industry in the EU

    The steel industry was one of the two strategic sectors governed by the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Those strategic sectors were subjected to common rules and a common authority. Intra-Community trade was liberalised and increased by almost 130% during the first five years of the ECSC's existence. In 1974, Community steel represented approximately 7% of the total industrial production in the original Member States. The turning point for that industry, as for many others, was the 1973 energy crisis and the 1975 economic recession that ensued. As the crisis developed, the Community assumed ever-increasing responsibilities, enabling it, on the one hand, to stabilise the market in order to remedy the constant deterioration of the financial situation of undertakings and, on the other hand, to encourage the adjustment of industrial structures to the new market conditions. For that reason, in October 1980, with the agreement of the Council of Ministers, the Commission declared a state of "manifest crisis" in the steel sector [Decisions 2794/80, 2795/80 and 2796/80]. That situation - which was provided for in the ECSC Treaty - allowed the Commission to lay down compulsory restrictions on steel production and deliveries to the Community. Those restrictions took the form of the quarterly fixing of production quotas, only part of which could be delivered to the Community market.

    Nowadays, the steel market is closely monitored, on the one hand, by way of information that steel companies must communicate to the Commission concerning their investments [Decision 3010/91] and, on the other, in the framework of the Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) of the European Steel Technology Platform (ESTEP). The "external aspect of steel", entails a few tariff quotas and the prior statistical monitoring of imports from Central and Eastern European countries to ensure that they do not harm the EU steel industry [see section 23.5]. Since the ECSC Treaty expired in July 2002, the regulatory framework on steel products came into line with the European policy applied to the whole of manufacturing [COM/1999/453].

    In a resolution adopted on 14 March 2002, the European Parliament deplored the American protectionist decision to impose extraordinary tariffs of up to 30% on steel imports in violation of World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. The Parliament backed the Commission in its decision to take a case immediately to the WTO and take all necessary measures to safeguard the EU steel industry in line with WTO rules [see section 25.7]. As the severe American restrictions threatened to deflect a large amount of steel products away from the United States and on to the EU market and thus to cause serious harm to European producers, the Commission introduced prior Community surveillance to all the products concerned by the above US measures [Regulation 76/2002]. Following the conditions laid down by the WTO safeguard agreement, the Commission imposed indeed provisional safeguard measures against imports of seven American steel products [Regulation 560/2002]. The Council established additional customs duties on imports of certain products originating in the USA and applied concession suspensions not only to steel products but also to other products with a view to offsetting the effects of the safeguard measures taken by the United States in March 2002 [Regulation 1031/2002 repealed by Regulation 2168/2003]. The WTO ruled the American safeguard action incompatible with its rules and the US government repealed it on 5 December 2003. The EU countermeasures were lifted as of the following day [Regulation 2168/2003].

    The European Community/Union has concluded an agreement with the Russian Federation on trade in certain steel products [Decision 2005/803], while imposing certain restrictions on imports of certain steel products from this country [Regulation 1899/2005].

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