The United States International Trade Commission this week lifts duties on steel imported from Australia, Canada, France and Japan.

The decision comes at the behest of the U.S. Big Three auto makers and Japanese transplants.

“”All of these duties are outdated and hurt American manufacturing competitiveness and U.S. jobs while needlessly helping a steel industry that is now profitable and healthy,” Stephen E. Biegun, Ford Motor Co. vice president-International Governmental Affairs, says in a statement.

The Assn. of International Automobile Manufacturers, representing Toyota Motor North America Inc., Nissan North America Inc. and Honda of American Mfg. Inc., says the ruling benefits its members, which produce 3.4 million vehicles annually in the U.S. and buy nearly all their steel from U.S. suppliers.

“American consumers will benefit as a result of more competitive steel prices,” says AIAM CEO Mike Stanton. “This is a victory for auto makers and consumers alike.”

The U.S. is keeping duties on steel imported from Germany and South Korea until the next review, set for 2011.

The duties for corrosion-resistant steel imported from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, South Korea and Japan, have been in place since 1993, the auto makers say.

The U.S. Big Three and Japanese transplants argued the tariffs were unnecessary as the U.S. steel industry is “now profitable; has healthy long-term prospects; and no longer needs government protection.”