By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. trade panel on Tuesday rejected punitive duties on bottom-mount refrigerators from South Korea and Mexico and on steel wheels from China in a blow for Whirlpool and other U.S. manufacturers seeking import relief.
The U.S. International Trade Commission voted 5-0, with one commissioner abstaining, that Whirlpool had not been materially injured or threatened with injury by lower priced imports from South Korea and Mexico.
It made that decision even though the U.S. Commerce Department last month found South Korean and Mexican companies had been selling in the U.S. market at below fair market value and also had received government subsidies.
Similarly, the trade panel by a vote of 6-0 rejected combined Commerce Department duties ranging up to more than 200 percent on steel wheels from China.
It is relatively rare for the ITC to reject duties in trade remedy cases, let alone twice in the same day by unanimous votes. The decisions could cause U.S. manufacturers to think twice about bringing new complaints.
The trade panel will vote on duties in two more cases on Thursday, one involving brightening agents from China and Taiwan and another on steel nails from the United Arab Emirates.
The United States imported $965.5 million worth of all types of refrigerators from South Korea and $2.3 billion worth from Mexico in 2011. Separate import data was not available for bottom-mount refrigerators at issue in the case.
"Of course we're extremely disappointed by today's ruling and the implications it has for our U.S. production of bottom-mount refrigerators," Marc Bitzer, president of Whirlpool North America, said in a statement.
"We believe the facts clearly demonstrated that dumped imports of bottom-mount refrigerators from South Korea and Mexico are causing injury to the U.S. industry," Bitzer said, adding the company would decide whether to appeal after reviewing the panel's reasons for its decision.
As a result of the ITC vote, final anti-dumping and countervailing duties set last month by the Commerce Department will not be imposed.
Those included a 30.34 percent anti-dumping duty on bottom-mount refrigerators made by LG in Mexico and a 15.41 percent duty on the same style of refrigerators that LG makes in South Korea.
The department also set a 15.95 percent anti-dumping duty on Samsung's Mexican-made bottom-mount refrigerators and a 5.16 percent anti-dumping duty on Samsung's South Korean-made bottom-mount refrigerators.
Samsung welcomed the ITC decision.
"Whirlpool's action in bringing this case simply resulted in a lengthy investigation that has been costly to the U.S. taxpayer, the result of which has been to prove that Samsung is in compliance with U.S. trade law," the company said.
Two other companies that produce bottom-mount refrigerators in Mexico, Mabe and Electrolux, were also spared duties as a result of the ITC vote, as was South Korean manufacturer Daewoo.
The decision was a disappointment for U.S. manufacturers Accuride Corporation and Hayes Lemmerz International Inc, which filed petitions last year for import relief.
U.S. imports of all types of steel wheels from China were more than $84.2 million in 2011.
(Reporting By Doug Palmer; Editing by Neil Stempleman and M.D. Golan)