DETROIT (AP) – Automotive manufacturers that buy a bulk of the nation’s steel say U.S. tariffs are leading them to abandon domestic suppliers and choose foreign products, and they hope new legislation will enlighten President Bush on the consequences.

Since March, when Bush imposed the tariffs, automotive suppliers have seen their steel prices climb anywhere from 20 percent to as high as 80 percent, according to the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association.

Tomorrow, U.S. Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Bloomfield Twp.) plans to introduce bipartisan legislation that calls on the Bush administration to consider the impact of the tariffs on automotive manufacturers and other steel-consuming industries.

Knollenberg joined executives from a number of top automotive product manufacturers here yesterday to discuss the resolution and tariffs.

The resolution asks Bush to direct the U.S. International Trade Commission to expand its review of the tariffs and include an assessment of the impact on steel consumers, not solely steelmakers. The ITC is scheduled to report to the president on the tariff program by Sept. 20.

Knollenberg noted that workers at U.S. steel-consuming businesses outnumber those at steel manufacturers by 50 to one.

“Right now, the unintended consequences of the steel tariffs are killing American jobs in steel-consuming companies,” Knollenberg said. “This clearly was not the intent of the Steel Safeguard Program. This is the collateral damage, but we can’t ignore the fact that the tariffs are costing jobs.”

The three-year tariffs, some as high as 30 percent, are aimed at limiting low-price imports to give the battered domestic industry time to reorganize and become more competitive.

Those buying steel, however, say higher prices are forcing them to close operations and eliminate jobs.

Jeff Stoner, vice president of global procurement at Troy-based ArvinMeritor Inc., said the automotive supplier decided last week to close a Tennessee plant that makes window regulators, in part of because of higher steel prices. The company will eliminate 317 jobs as a result.

ArvinMeritor also is exploring options for buying cheaper steel from non-U.S. suppliers, including long-term contracts that extend beyond the life of the tariffs, Stoner said.

Dura Automotive Systems Inc. in Rochester Hills is considering plastic, aluminum castings, powdered metal and other alternatives for steel. Dura buys some one-quarter of a billion pounds of steel annually.

“Once the steel industry loses this market share, it will be hard pressed to win it back,” Stoner said.

Nancy Gravatt of the American Iron and Steel Institute said her trade organization opposes the resolution and considers it an attempt to dismantle the tariff program.

Gravatt said the tariffs were designed to cut down on the illegal dumping of government-subsidized steel from other countries that destroyed the U.S. pricing structure.

“The domestic steel industry can compete with anyone, but we need a level playing field,” she said.

A Commerce Department official said she had not seen Knollenberg’s proposed legislation but the tariffs’ effect on consumer prices was not being ignored.

The administration has also granted 727 exclusions to the tariffs, with another round expected in March.

In an initial round of exemption requests, the administration excluded 3.2 million metric tons, nearly a quarter of the steel covered by Bush’s tariff order. The exemptions were granted for steel products that U.S. users could show were not available in sufficient quantities domestically.

The domestic steel industry has complained that the administration granted too many exemptions, charging that by excluding so much steel originally covered by the tariffs it was gutting the effectiveness of the temporary protection.

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