The European Commission will seek to crack down on unfairly cheap steel imports from countries such as China and Russia, as part of efforts to support ailing EU manufacturers, according to a draft plan expected to be presented Wednesday and seen by dpa.

The European Union is the second-largest steel producer in the world, generating on average 170 million tons annually at some 500 sites in 23 member states.

But the sector is buckling under pressure from global overproduction amid an economic slowdown in emerging economies.

The EU also accuses Chinese and Russian manufacturers of unfairly undercutting prices, a practice known as dumping.

In an effort to protect Europe's steel industry - which had a turnover of 166 billion euros (185 billion dollars) in 2014 - the commission is expected to suggest a series of measures, including a tougher response to dumping practices.

These include removing the so-called lesser-duty rule under which the EU reduces its anti-dumping duties to the minimal level needed to be effective, as well as speeding up dumping investigations and setting up a surveillance system for steel products, according to the draft paper.

The commission - the EU's executive - also calls for more action from member states, arguing that they have "prevented" progress on earlier proposals for an overhaul of the bloc's trade defence tools.

The plan comes at a sensitive time, as the EU must decide how to handle cheap Chinese imports in future by the end of the year, when the current World Trade Organization provisions for calculating its fair export prices expire. The debate focuses on whether to grant China so-called market economy status, which would change the rules for calculating fair export prices.

Last month, thousands of European steel industry workers took to the streets of Brussels, urging the EU not to ease up its approach towards Beijing over illegal trade practices.

The draft commission paper also calls for investment in a modernized and more competitive steel industry, while encouraging member states to support projects in line with EU rules, for example by investing in renewable energy support schemes.

EU funds are also available to help equip unemployed workers with modern skills, the commission notes.

The steel industry must compete on the basis of cutting-edge technology, quality and efficient production, it says, noting that Europe "cannot - and does not want to - compete on the basis of low wages or social standards."

The steel sector accounts for around 1.3 per cent of the EU's gross domestic product and provided 328,000 direct jobs in 2015, with many others depending on it, the commission said. The priorities of the EU's executive include boosting growth and job creation.

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