(Adds background, details)
BRATISLAVA, July 19 (Reuters) - United States Steel Corp’s factory in Slovakia will lay off 2,500 people, or around a fifth of its workforce, by the end of 2021 as it tries to compete with a glut of cheap steel imports from non-EU countries, it said on Friday.
“We are taking this decision after careful consideration...to protect our business and remain competitive,” U.S. Steel Kosice’s president James Bruno said in a statement.
The layoffs will be a blow to the Kosice region in the east of Slovakia, where unemployment is higher than the national average at 7.8%.
Government officials were not immediately available to comment.
Steel industry executives urged the European Commission in June to strengthen measures to protect against a surge in imports, saying the future of the European industry was under threat.
U.S. Steel Kosice, one of Slovakia’s biggest employers with 12,000 workers, said non-European Union countries were being permitted to export record levels of steel to the bloc without having to meet strict EU environmental rules.
Industry body Eurofer said last month that the EU steel industry was challenged by a 12% increase in imports of finished steel products in 2018 in a market that grew by only 3.3%.
The increase came despite measures designed to limit steel imports following Washington’s imposition of 25% import tariffs, which have effectively closed the U.S. market and diverted supplies elsewhere.
Friday’s announcement by U.S. Steel Kosice follows a June decision to cut output at its plant by a third by closing one of its three blast furnaces.
The overall jobless rate in Slovakia is at an all-time low of 4.9%, with the auto sector driving economic growth. The Finance Ministry sees growth of 3.5% this year and 3.4% next year, a touch slower than previous forecasts due to a slowdown in the euro zone. (Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Writing by Jason Hovet; Editing by Jan Harvey and Kirsten Donovan)