WASHINGTON, March 12 (Reuters) - U.S. trade officials will look into cheap imports of ferroalloy from an Australian plant owned by the world's biggest miner, BHP Billiton Ltd , which could end with the imposition of duties, the Department of Commerce said on Thursday.
West Virginia-based Felman Production LLC has said large and increasing volumes of silicomanganese, an alloy additive used to make steel, from Tasmanian Electro Metallurgical Co (TEMCO) have "significantly undercut" U.S. prices.
The dumping margin, which can help determine the level of anti-dumping duties, was alleged to be 77.97 percent, Commerce said in a statement. In 2014, imports of silicomanganese from Australia were valued at $76.9 million.
BHP is about to spin off the plant into a separate company, called South32, housing aluminum, manganese, nickel, silver and coal assets. Any move to impose duties on TEMCO's products would dent the plant's already tough prospects as part of South32.
Deutsche Bank analysts rate the TEMCO smelter among the least valuable of the $13 billion in assets going into South32 and forecast in February that the plant might eventually be closed.
The International Trade Commission will make a preliminary decision by April 6 on whether the imports threaten the local industry. If the case continues, Commerce will rule on preliminary duties in July. (Reporting by Krista Hughes; Additional reporting by Sonali Paul in Melbourne. Editing by Andre Grenon)