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WASHINGTON, Sept 15 (Reuters) - U.S. producers of steel rebar undercut each other on price and are not hurt by imports from Mexico and Turkey, foreign firms told the U.S. International Trade Commission on Monday as they fought a push to slap duties on their steel.
U.S.-based producers have complained of a doubling of imports between 2010 and 2012 and launched a trade dispute that could end in import duties as high as 67 percent on reinforcing bar used to reinforce concrete.
Companies giving evidence in the final stage of the case said cheap, subsidized imports endanger a recovery in the U.S. industry, which was hard-hit by a collapse in construction during the recession.
But lawyers for the foreign producers said most imports were aimed at small-scale projects, while U.S. rebar was concentrated in large-scale construction like roads and bridges, where U.S. mills dominate the market and aggressively compete on price.
Market leaders Nucor Corp, Commercial Metals Co and Gerdau Long Steel North America sold rebar cheaply to their in-house operations marketing to contractors for big projects, they said.
"Nucor and Gerdau are the price leaders and undersold other U.S. producers and each other," said Jay Campbell, of White & Case, a representative for the Mexican producers. "Imports did not suppress the U.S. mills' profitability; the big three did this to themselves."
Wiley Rein lawyer Alan Price, representing the U.S. mills' Rebar Trade Action Coalition, said unfair competition from imports cut operating margins to 3.7 percent in 2013. That was down from 4.3 percent in 2011 and 5.5 percent in 2012.
Jim Darsey, Nucor executive vice president of bar products, said Nucor cut prices to compete with imports, hurting the company's bottom line, but imports just got cheaper and cheaper.
"Recovery remains elusive, in large part because of dumped and subsidized imports," he said.
Jim Kerkvliet, Gerdau Long Steel vice president of sales, said his company had been forced to idle several mills, reduce staff at others and lay off 550 workers at one facility.
Production, sales and financial performance took a "significant hit," he said, noting that construction was not expected to return to pre-recession levels until 2017.
The U.S. Commerce Department earlier this month confirmed anti-dumping duties on Mexican rebar of up to 66.7 percent and anti-subsidy duties of up to 1.25 percent on Turkish imports.
But it dropped anti-dumping duties against Turkey, which traders and lawyers said reflected a balanced trade flow between the two countries. Turkey is one of the biggest buyers of U.S. steel scrap, which its mills turn into products like rebar and sell to the United States.
The ITC is due to rule on whether imports hurt the domestic industry, the final hurdle for the case, by Oct. 23. A negative decision would end the case. (Reporting by Krista Hughes; Editing by Dan Grebler)