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American companies imported 2.7 million metric tons of steel in October, down slightly from 2.9 million tons the month before, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday.

Last month's figures reflect an 8 percent increase from the 2.5 million metric tons imported in October 2001.

So far this year, an estimated 24.5 million tons have been imported to domestic companies -- a 1.8 million-ton increase from year-to-date levels in 2001.

At that rate, import totals could reach as high as 29 million tons -- making it the fourth highest year of steel imports in U.S. history, said Nancy Gravatt, a spokeswoman for the American Iron and Steel Institute. Last year, companies imported 27.3 million tons of steel.

Domestic steel companies are keeping a wary eye on imports as the federal government prepares to accept new applications for exclusions to the March tariffs. In August, the Bush administration granted 178 exclusions to the tariffs, bringing the total to 727.

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