Steelworkers laud federal report recommending tariffs or quotas on dumped metals, but ultimate decision up to Trump

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STEELWORKERS leave during a shift change at U.S. Steel’s Granite City works. About 1,500 workers at Granite City Steel have been laid off in the last recent years. – St. Louis Post-Dispatch photo

Washington (PAI) — The Steelworkers union lauded a recent Commerce Department report recommending U.S. tariffs on dumped foreign steel and aluminum, but the ultimate decision is up to President Donald Trump.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced the report documented the threat to national security from the tide of subsidized metal imports from up to a dozen nations. The imports have closed U.S. steel plants and aluminum smelters and cost thousands of U.S. jobs.

And they also endanger national security, Ross told Trump, since the military relies on those two metals for everything from airplane wings to tank treads to machine guns and water pipes at bases.

A MATTER OF NATIONAL SECURITY

Steelworkers President Leo Gerard wants a quick and correct decision from Trump. The president has until mid-April to decide whether to impose tariffs of 24 percent on steel from all foreign countries, of up to 53 percent on the dumped steel from the 12 offending nations, impose import quotas of 63 percent of 2017 exports to the U.S. on each of the nations, or do nothing.

The other nations can’t challenge his decision because he’s invoking a special trade law exception, Section 232, covering cases involving national security.

“In our view, and that of most Americans, the president must take quick and comprehensive action on unfair trade and critical infrastructure improvements. Steel and aluminum are vital to the nation’s security and to our crumbling roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Immediate action providing effective relief is necessary,” Gerard said.

Gerard said the reports, which use section 232 of trade law, show Ross’s “comprehensive understanding of the unrelenting attacks and challenges these industries critical to our nation’s security are facing from unfairly traded imports.

We also commend the department’s interpretation of the 232 statute’s definition of national security to include critical infrastructure,” Gerard said.

LETTER WRITING CAMPAIGN

Steelworkers and other workers nationwide have sent 20,000-plus letters to Trump, urging action against the dumped imports from Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Egypt, India, Malaysia, Korea, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam. All “relentlessly violated trade laws” in shipping the two metals here and selling them for low-ball prices, Gerard said.

“While our members and workers across America will be encouraged by these recommendations, we know the fight is far from over.”

The steel and aluminum workers the union represents – or represented, given all the plant closures -- have “borne the brunt of lost jobs and declining production caused by unfair and illegal trade and global overcapacity largely fueled by China,” Gerard said. “Curtailing that cheating and restoring fair market prices will go a long way to reigniting domestic production and employment,” he predicted.

U.S. NOW WORLD’S LARGEST STEEL IMPORTER

The Commerce Department said the U.S. is now the world’s largest steel importer, with four tons of steel imported for every ton exported. The agency reported six basic oxygen steel furnaces and four electric furnaces have closed since 2000 and employment has dropped by 35 percent since 1998.

Commerce also said world steelmakers can produce 2.4 billion metric tons per year, 700 million tons more than demand and 24 times U.S. annual steel consumption. China accounts for most of the excess capacity. “On an average month, China produces nearly as much steel as the U.S. does in a year,” the agency said.

And so many U.S. steel plants have closed that certain kinds of steel have only one U.S. producer.

China is also the biggest steel trade violator: ‘The U.S. has 29 anti-dumping and countervailing duty orders in place on foreign steel, out of a total of 169” worldwide, Commerce said. Left unsaid: USW brought many, if not most, of those complaints.

The situation is just as bad, if not worse, in aluminum, the department said, with dumped imports taking 90 percent of U.S. demand, a 58 percent in aluminum employment from 2013-16 and six smelters shut since 2013. Two of the remaining five are running at capacity, Ross’s report says.

Ross said each of the recommended dumped steel remedies – the tariffs and the quotas – “is intended to increase domestic steel production from its present 73 percent of capacity to approximately an 80 percent operating rate, the minimum rate needed for the long-term viability of the industry.”

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