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Decision on steel tariffs could have bearing on 2004 election

President Bush has an important decision to make by Dec. 10. He has the politically charged task of figuring out what to do about the tariffs he imposed last year on imported steel products.

He can either keep the tariffs in place, continue some of them, or he can lift them altogether. Whatever he decides, a lot of people are going to be unhappy.

The president imposed the tariffs in March of 2002 to help out the struggling U.S. steel industry. While the steel companies in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia applauded the move, other components of the U.S. economy cried foul. Domestic manufacturers, for instance, say the tariffs have jacked up steel prices, making the cost of doing business even more unbearable.

The World Trade Organization last month ruled the Bush tariffs to be illegal, and the body has given the White House until Dec. 10 to make a decision on whether the U.S. intends to keep them in place.

If Bush maintains the tariffs, the European Union, Norway and Japan have vowed to retaliate with tariffs of their own on U.S. products.

On top of all this, Bush needs the steel-making states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and the manufacturing states that use steel such as Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin to win re-election next year.

The tariffs have had a reasonably positive effect on the steel industry, and the odds are that Bush will lift them to avoid a costly trade war with key allies.

Still, West Virginia's five electoral votes helped propel Bush to the White House in 2000, and it was his promise to bail out the steel industry that helped him win the Mountain State.

It will be interesting to see what the president finally decides -- and how the voters react in 2004.

James Logue