Slovak PM visits US Steel, no final deal announced as Kosice plant talks continue

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Slovakia’s Prime Minister met with U.S. Steel executives in Pittsburgh on Monday to discuss the future of a steel mill in Kosice, but no final agreement was announced.

Prime Minister Robert Fico said the purpose of his visit was “to motivate U.S. Steel to stay in Slovakia.” Fico said he felt Monday’s discussions went well and that a written agreement between the country and U.S. Steel may be signed as soon as Wednesday.

But U.S. Steel declined to comment on whether a deal may be close after Fico met with U.S. Steel CEO John Surma for about an hour.

Surma said only that he’s confident “good progress” was made in the face of difficult operating conditions, and that he’s grateful for the Slovak government’s efforts. The talks are believed to include issues such as tax breaks and energy costs, which are far higher in Europe.

U.S. Steel bought the Kosice operations in 2000, but Europe’s financial troubles have hurt demand for steel and profits at the plant. The plant, U.S. Steel’s last overseas operation, employs about 12,500 people.

U.S. Steel has reportedly had purchase offers for the Kosice mill. On Monday, Fico said he didn’t know of any efforts by Slovakian investors to buy the plant.

The negotiations between U.S. Steel and the Slovak government have been going on for months.

Fico’s left-leaning government took office nearly a year ago following a landslide victory in parliamentary elections. Fico pledged to maintain a welfare state, increase corporate taxes and hike the income tax on the highest earners, but economic realities may have forced him to take a different tack with U.S. Steel.

U.S. Steel has an annual raw steelmaking capacity of about 29 million tons, with 5 million of that coming from the Kosice plant. Actual production in Kosice was 4.2 million tons in 2011 and 4.4 million tons in 2012.

Early last year, the Serbian government bought a money-losing U.S. Steel plant for the symbolic sum of $1, hoping to keep 5,400 workers employed.