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Whirlpool seeks remedy in trade spat with South Korean companies

U.S. home appliance-maker Whirlpool Corp. on May 31 filed a petition with the International Trade Commission requesting measures to compensate domestic manufacturers of residential washing machines for the harm caused by two South Korean competitors found to be selling imported models at prices below fair value.

The Benton Harbor, Mich.-based company said in a statement that the safeguard petition was the only effective means available to the U.S. government to address a pattern of cheating through country-hopping.

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and LG Electronics Inc. said they would contest the petition.

In 2013, the government found Samsung and LG to be selling washing machines imported to the U.S. from South Korea and Mexico at less than fair value, a practice known as dumping.

Whirlpool alleged that Samsung and LG shifted production to China to circumvent sanctions. Prior to the issue of another anti-dumping finding in 2017, Whirlpool alleged that the South Korean companies stockpiled products in the U.S. before shifting production again to factories in Thailand and Vietnam.

"This filing addresses unprecedented behavior by two serial violators of U.S. trade laws," Whirlpool CEO Jeff Fettig said in a statement. "If not for this unlawful behavior, we believe our washer category would have thrived like the rest of our North American business."

Whirlpool said that more than 2,000 employees at its Clyde, Ohio, washer manufacturing facility signed the petition to emphasize the importance of U.S. trade laws to preserve U.S. manufacturing jobs.

The petition requires the ITC to decide if imported Samsung and LG washers sold at prices that undercut rivals have meaningfully hurt U.S. manufacturers. A determination by the ITC that such imports have hurt U.S. players gives the president discretion to remedy the situation.

LG said Whirlpool's petition reflected its lack of competitiveness in the U.S. market.

"The fact is, Whirlpool has once again decided to seek government protection rather than compete in the marketplace," LG spokesman John Taylor told S&P Global Market Intelligence. "In light of their apparent inability to compete with leading global brands like LG in the U.S. market, Whirlpool has decided to seek government restrictions to limit consumer choices."

Taylor added that LG strongly disagreed that its imports were causing serious injury to U.S. manufacturers and that the company would defend this case vigorously.

Samsung said Whirlpool's petition could harm U.S. consumers. "We reject the notion that imports of our washing machines harms Whirlpool," Samsung said in a statement. "Consumers buy Samsung washing machines because of our design and innovation, and now they stand to lose the most by this filing, with the potential for limited choices, higher prices and stunted innovation."

Whirlpool said it expected the ITC to determine in late September whether increased imports of washing machines hurt the U.S. industry, and if this is deemed the case, for the commission to recommend President Donald Trump to take action in late November.

The company "is taking this action because U.S. manufacturers and workers need comprehensive trade relief that Samsung and LG cannot circumvent," Fettig said. "The safeguard petition allows for the effective application and enforcement of trade rules that are critical to maintaining jobs and supporting free and fair competition in the United States."