A good deal for Big Steel

The US steel industry is remiss in refusing to accept an arrangement regarding steel imports agreed to by the Reagan administration and the European Common Market. The proposed pact would restrict Common Market carbon steel imports into the US to 5.75 percent of the domestic American market. It is expected that a subsequent agreement would eventually cover pipe and tubular goods.

Such a marketing arrangement is sensible. As Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldridge argues, it would ''provide the US industry with greater stability than would be afforded by incessant litigation.''

Unfortunately, the current policy of the domestic US steel industry is to encourage just that - endless litigation. This is not to deny that the US industry has a legitimate case against some European producers who have engaged in export dumping and subsidization policies that run counter to international trade agreements. The Commerce Department, in its final ruling last week, held that carbon steel imports from six European nations are being sold in the US at subsidized rates. Under the ruling, duties could be applied to those particular imports amounting to up to 26 percent of the actual cost of the imports. The US International Trade Commission is holding hearings this week and will issue its final ruling later this month.

The whole import issue is tangled in a web of emotion and statistics. Suffice it to note that the US steel industry believes that the Reagan administration ''sold out'' to the Europeans and softened findings regarding the extent of European subsidization. Its argument is based on the fact that a preliminary ruling by Commerce last June found subsidization to be more widespread than was the case in the final rulings issued last week.

Angry US producers now are appealing the Commerce rulings. That is their prerogative. But it also seems the occasion for them to take a more honest, long-range view of their industry and the issue of imports than they have until now. It is hardly a secret that, because of outmoded management practices, high wages, and old facilities, the US industry has often found its products not competitive with overseas products. No matter what steps are taken regarding illegal dumping and subsidization practices, the domestic industry urgently needs to put its house in order if it is to compete in the world marketplace.

The Reagan administration is to be commended for a reasonable and balanced approach toward the steel import issue. On one hand, the Europeans have been warned about illegal dumping - and now face the possibility of substantial fines. On the other, the long-term agreement hammered out with the Europeans would bring order to the domestic scene. The US steel industry would do well to withdraw its complaints about dumping and accept a long-term market agreement.

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