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Whirlpool Wins Backing for Import Protection From Key Government Panel -- Update

Whirlpool Wins Backing for Import Protection From Key Government Panel -- Update


 By Jacob M. Schlesinger and Andrew Tangel 

WASHINGTON -- Whirlpool Corp. won crucial backing from a government panel in its bid to limit competition from foreign washing machine makers, giving the Trump administration another opportunity to invoke little-used powers to ramp up trade enforcement.

The U.S. International Trade Commission voted 4-0 Thursday to approve the petition from the Benton Harbor, Mich.-based manufacturer seeking protection in the American market from South Korean rivals Samsung Electronics Co. and LG Electronics Inc. The vote came under a trade law that allows U.S. companies to win broad protection if they can show they suffered "serious injury" from a surge of imports.

The provision -- Section 201 of Trade Act of 1974 -- was last used in 2002 by the Bush administration to impose steel tariffs.

The Section 201 "safeguard" law was designed to offer U.S. industries broader protection than anti-dumping laws.

The members of the ITC -- a bipartisan, independent panel -- will next consider what specific policies they believe should be implemented. The deadline for the panel to send recommendations to the White House is Dec. 4. The Trump administration would then be required to make a decision by early next year on whether to impose import limits.

The Trump administration hasn't yet commented on this specific ITC case. But officials have said they would consider invoking the rarely used "safeguard" law more frequently in their bid to take a more aggressive stance on trade enforcement.

One of Mr. Trump's trade advisers, Peter Navarro, has spoken sympathetically on the issue. In a speech earlier this year, he blasted Samsung and LG for "precisely the kind of trade cheating that must be stopped."

Mr. Navarro was referring to the fact that Whirlpool had previously won protection against trade cases imposing duties on Samsung and LG machines made in South Korea and Mexico under a different, narrower trade law designed to shield U.S. companies from goods that are allegedly "dumped," or sold unfairly below cost. But the Korean makers got around those limits by shifting production to China. When they would have faced subsequent tariffs aimed at that country, they moved production to Vietnam and Thailand.

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