Seven of Europe's leading steel producing nations have called on the bloc's executive to do more for the embattled sector, which has come under pressure because of global overproduction and competition from markets such as China.

The European Union is the second-largest steel producer in the world, generating more than 177 million tons every year at some 500 sites in 23 member states. But the sector has failed to recover after being hit hard by the economic crisis.

"The EU cannot remain passive when rising job losses and steelwork closures show that there is a significant and impending risk of collapse in the European steel sector," says a letter from the seven countries, dated Friday.

It is signed by German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, his Italian and French counterparts Federica Guidi and Emmanuel Macron, British Secretary of State for Business Sajid Javid, Belgian Economy Minister Kris Peeters and the ministers of Poland and Luxembourg, Mateusz Morawiecki and Etienne Schneider.

They call on the EU to use "every means available and take strong action" to support the steel sector, including trade defence tools such as anti-dumping duties, applied to producers who unfairly undercut prices.

An ongoing anti-dumping investigation into Chinese and Russian steel products should lead to "swift and appropriate measures," the ministers say, while calling for the launch of further inquiries.

"We should not wait until the damage from unfair practices becomes irreversible for our industry," they warn, adding that the EU's executive should "quicken the pace of investigations."

The commission said Monday that it is "applying the instruments at its disposal," pointing to 35 existing measures against cheap steel imports. New anti-dumping investigations will be opened "very soon," said spokeswoman Lucia Caudet.

Another key issue is the future of Beijing's trade status, with the commission due to decide by the end of the year how to assess fair prices for goods produced in China.

Any new rules must recognize the "importance of free but fair trade," the ministers say.

European industry representatives and trade unions insisted Monday that China should not to be granted so-called market economy status, which would change the way anti-dumping duties are calculated.

"Chinese dumping destroys EU jobs and undermines free and fair trade," they said in a joint manifesto issued by the AEGIS industry alliance.

They announced plans to demonstrate February 15, when the commission is organizing high-level talks on steel sector challenges.

In November, EU industry ministers pledged to support the steel sector, but without announcing specific measures.

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