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New federal figures released Thursday showed that Japanese steel imports are waning, but Rep. Jack Quinn is pushing forward with a proposal to set a limit on imports to protect the U.S. steel industry.

Although the new figures showed Japanese steel imports shrinking to 384,597 metric tons in December from 728,478 the month before, Quinn said legislation is necessary to protect U.S. steel companies and workers from "dumping" from foreign manufacturers.

"We talk tough to the Japanese, and then for a month they'll lower the amount of steel they export," said Quinn, a Hamburg Republican who serves as executive chairman of the House Steel Caucus. "Then for the next six months they'll dump steel on us at low prices. So we need to have a more permanent solution."

Quinn is joining with Rep. Peter J. Visclosky, D-Ind., and Sens. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., to offer just such a solution. Under legislation they will introduce next month, monthly steel imports would be frozen at July 1997 levels.

"No one disputes the fact that foreign companies are dumping and that they are breaking U.S. and international trade laws," Quinn said. "The only dispute is how to respond to the crisis."

The Clinton administration opposes quotas and favors using public persuasion to dissuade the foreign countries that dump steel.

Labor and industry disagree with the administration, however. The United Steelworkers of America and the nation's steel companies have banded together in recent months to fight what they see as widespread low-price dumping of steel from several nations.

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