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Hoist with its own petard



Dumping occurs when a product is imported at below normal cost in the country of origin and causes injury to a local manufacturer.The remedy was designed to stop unfair trade but is often used a backdoor means of protecting local suppliers.In this case BlueScope, Australia’s single-biggest complainant, lodged a claim last year against Vietnam and other countries, but buoyant domestic demand has forced it to import steel to supply its local customers, offsetting local shortages – which by definition proves the complainant is not being injured.The irony of BlueScope being forced to pay duties after its own complaint may be amusing, but it shines a spotlight on the damage caused to Australian steel users by the illogical dumping protection afforded the company. Federal Industry Minister Angus Taylor declined to comment on the pre-Christmas decision, which was based on departmental advice. At the very least a minister of Taylor’s credentials might scratch his head at the impact of the decision, try to amend it or just maybe try to rein in the blatant abuse of the system. Taylor imposed duties of about 13 per cent on imports from BlueScope’s Vietnamese mill. Dumping is meant to stop unfair trade, but in this case, as is the norm, customers will have to pay more for their steel.They are the ones being hurt because of BlueScope’s domestic supply problems and the lunacy of the Australian Dumping Authority’s recommendations. The injury leg in the claim is impossible to justify when BlueScope reported record underlying earnings of $1.7bn last financial year and is forecasting first-half earnings this year of $2.2bn. The decision makes zero sense, and the imposition of duties which must now be paid by BlueScope underlines the lunacy of the trade protection measures.BlueScope is the single biggest user of the measures in Australia as a means of protecting its domestic supply, but the present building boom means it can no longer meet demand. BlueScope has advised dealers of a shortage of its Trucor steel frames, which are impacted by the decision, and noted it was importing the product to make up for domestic supply shortages.BlueScope owns a steel mill in Vietnam which was caught by the decision. The tactics are at the centre of an ACCC Federal Court case against former BlueScope executive Jason Ellis.Ellis, who was a direct report to BlueScope boss Mark Vassella, is awaiting news on the ACCC case against him for allegedly using dumping threats in an attempt to get importers to stick to agreed pricing schedules.BlueScope and Ellis have rejected the claims. The case has been heard and Federal Court judge Justice Michael O’Bryan is due to hand down his decision shortly.Ellis, as it happens, is the son of former BHP chairman Jerry Ellis.Dumping duties mean higher prices for customers which will then be passed on to new home buyers.

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