(Adds details, comment by Commerce secretary, background)
By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON, May 6 (Reuters) - The U.S. Commerce Department on Wednesday launched a "Section 232" national security investigation into imports of mobile cranes from Germany, Austria, Japan and elsewhere, following a complaint by domestic producer Manitowoc Co.
The investigation could potentially lead to new U.S. tariffs on imports of such cranes.
Manitowoc in December petitioned the department, arguing that increased imports of low-priced mobile cranes and intellectual property infringement by foreign competitors had harmed the domestic mobile crane manufacturing industry.
The Department of Homeland Security has identified mobile cranes as a critical industry because of their use in the defense and critical infrastructure sectors, the Commerce Department said in a statement launching the probe.
"We will conduct this review thoroughly and expeditiously,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said. “This investigation will help determine whether mobile cranes are being imported in such quantities or under such circumstances as to threaten to impair U.S. national security.”
The Trump administration has used Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to apply new tariffs to steel and aluminum imports from China and elsewhere, and last year threatened to use the law to put duties on imports of automobiles and automobile parts from Europe and Japan, although such duties have not been implemented.
On Monday, the Commerce Department launched a separate Section 232 investigation that could lead to new U.S. tariffs on imports of key electrical steel components of power transformers and related goods.
In the mobile crane case, Manitowoc claims the low-priced imports and intellectual property infringement resulted in the closure of one of its two production facilities in the United States and eliminated hundreds of skilled manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin.
In making its case to the department, the company cited data from the U.S. International Trade Commission, which showed that imports of mobile cranes increased 152% between 2014 and 2019, the Commerce Department said in its statement.
It also cited a 2015 case in which the ITC banned the sale of a Chinese crane in the United States after it found that a Chinese manufacturer misappropriated six trade secrets and infringed on a patent. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Leslie Adler)