UAE exporters of steel products are under investigation by the US commerce department over allegations of price-dumping.
US investigates UAE steel exports
The US commerce department is investigating allegations of price-dumping by UAE exporters of steel products.
The move raises the spectre of import tariffs that threaten to hamper the country's industrial development.
The department has reacted to a complaint filed by US steel producers, which alleges companies from the UAE, as well as Oman, Vietnam and India, competed unfairly due to subsidies received from their governments.
The accusation of anti-competitive prices against the steel companies follow a spate of cases in which Gulf petrochemical producers had to defend themselves against price-dumping charges in courts in China, India and Europe.
The investigation will be initiated by the US international trade commission, the commerce department said this week, and would focus on imports of circular welded carbon-quality steel pipe. The commission is due to present its finding on December 12. The complaint was launched by US Steel, Tyco International, Allied Tube and Conduit, JMC Steel Group and Wheatland Tube.
It is not the first time US metals producers have sought to fend off international competition through legal action. Earlier this year, US aluminium companies won an anti-dumping court case against Chinese producers, who will now be subject to import duties of more than 30 per cent.
Protectionist tariffs could extend to metals producers in the Gulf, who benefit from cheap energy prices.
"Getting aluminium into the US from outside the region where you have cheaper energy costs would definitely hurt the local aluminium industry in the US," said Modar Al Mekdad, the general manager at Gulf Extrusions, part of the Al Ghurair Group.
"With this current market situation I would never be surprised if I see higher tariffs or import duties."
As the US is teetering on the brink of recession and fighting rising unemployment, analysts suspect the government will be quicker to resort to protectionist measures.
"In an environment like this one, there's always going to be less tolerance of unfair practices, or perceived unfair practices. And there are greater political incentives to protect domestic interests," said Simon Williams, the chief economist at HSBC Middle East.
The US already has an import duty on steel from the EU, which in turn charges a 6 per cent levy on aluminium from the Gulf.
Gulf petrochemical producers are also awaiting the outcome of legal cases against importers of polyethylene terephthalate. Last year, Abdulwahab Al Sadoun, the secretary general of the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association, warned court cases in India and China threatened to undermine the US$10 billion (Dh36.73bn) petrochemical export industry.
GCC countries have seized on petrochemicals as a means to diversify their economies away from oil and gas production, and huge projects in Saudi Arabia and the UAE are testament to this ambition. In Ruwais, Abu Dhabi Polymers last year invested US$2.6bn in its third phase of expansion.
Metals production is another sector earmarked for expansion, and both Emirates Aluminium and Emirates Steel Industries plan to add to their capacity in the coming years.
As their upstream products are more suited for exports, they would be likely to suffer more from import tariffs raised in other regions than the more localised specialist producers, said Mr Al Mekdad.
Last year, US imports of steel pipes from the UAE totalled about $26.3 millon, compared with imports from India of $64.9m, Vietnamese steel pipes worth $27.5m and imports from Oman valued at $24.2m, according to the commerce department.