BRUSSELS (Reuters) - ArcelorMittal ISPA.AS, the world's largest steelmaker, said on Monday it had abandoned a plan to invest 138 million euro ($181.4 million) in a steel plant in Belgium, placing its future in doubt.
The steel giant said last October it would close two blast furnaces and a foundry at the site in Liege, with unions estimating that 500 jobs would be lost. Both blast furnaces had already been idled.
ArcelorMittal had proposed investing to retain activities at the plant, such as rolling steel and research and development, and preserve 2,000 jobs, but this was conditional on an agreement over the closure of 'liquid phase' operations.
It said on Monday that it had failed to agree with unions the details of job losses and abandoned its investment plan.
"Over time, it could well mean closure," said Jordan Atanasov, regional head of the CSC Metea union. "If the investment is not realized it would be a great threat within two to three years."
The liberal CGSLB union said ArcelorMittal was blackmailing unions into accepting its conditions for the closure of parts of the site.
"It is a practice from a different century," it said.
ArcelorMittal, which currently employs some 2,800 people in Liege, said it was disappointed that a deal could not be reached in 11 months.
The company said that the temporary stoppage of the liquid phase cost more than 5 million euros per month and that ArcelorMittal Liege had made an operating loss of 427 million euros over the past four quarters.
Reporting By Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by David Cowell