The European Union will protect itself from unfair overseas competition if needed, industry commissioner Guenther Verheugen said Monday at a gathering of steelmakers.
The comments come amid a surge in China's steel production, which the EU has already said it would combat with ''defensive measures'' if necessary.
''You can expect us to care for a fair playing field,'' Verheugen said at a conference of the International Iron and Steel Institute. ''We will continue to fight for free trade, but we will also defend our industries' interests where necessary.''
European steelmakers accuse China of distorting competition by illegally subsidizing steel production. The European steel industry has said it is preparing legal action against China, which it plans to present to the European Commission.
''If our competitors are using unfair trade practices we will make sure to protect our industries' interests,'' Verheugen told the steel executives. ''This doesn't have anything to do with protectionism. It's our obligation.''
China became a net exporter of steel for the first time in 2006 and about 17 percent of Chinese steel exports are for the European market, according to the German steel association.
Verheugen said the commission has not decided whether to take action on behalf of the European steel industry and refused to comment on a time frame.
''We're still examining the situation,'' he said.