Steelworkers, top rep on trade wonder: Where’s Trump’s anti-Chinese steel ruling?

WASHINGTON—The Steelworkers and a top lawmaker on trade issues, Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, are starting to wonder: Where is the Trump administration’s planned report making the case for cracking down on subsidized Chinese steel imports as a matter of national security?

That’s because Trump Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross promised it to Kaptur, in a prior open hearing on trade, by early June. And now, in a reply to the congresswoman, Ross pledges it’ll be out soon, but with no date, her spokesman added on August 16.

The ruling is important because Trump is considering invoking a little-used 55-year-old part of U.S. trade law, Section 232, to move against the Chinese imports, which have severely hurt the U.S. steel industry and led to layoffs of tens of thousands of workers.

Section 232 is unlike other parts of trade law, which foreign nations can contest at the World Trade Organization. Section 232 lets the president take immediate action by imposing tariffs against any imports whose rising tide threatens U.S. national security. The other nations can’t contest that, the law adds.

In steel’s case, Kaptur and Steelworkers President Leo Gerard say, that means the Chinese imports threaten U.S. production of steel for tanks, planes and weapons.

“Delay is devastating,” Gerard said in a statement. “Since the president announced an investigation in April, attacks on the U.S. steel sector have skyrocketed, with imports up 18 percent.

“Trading partners targeted the U.S. market for fear the United States will finally stand up for its producers and workers and protect our national security. Postponing relief is equivalent to unilateral disarmament.

“Trading relationships in the steel sector are complex,” Gerard admitted. “But enough time, attention and investigation have passed to know what needs to be done. Steel, the foundation of our national security, is crumbling under the onslaught of foreign imports. Much of that is illegally traded.

“Workers’ hopes were raised during the campaign and by the president’s announcement. They are sick and tired of Washington politicians saying they care, and dragging their feet.

“The time to act is now.”

The union also launched an online petition, making the same points and with much the same language, to bombard the White House with demands for action. The petition says U.S. steel is needed for everything from “missiles and munitions to roads and bridges.”

There’s questioning on the local level, too. Dave McManus, a veteran Steelworker at the ArcelorMittal steel plate mill in Coatesville, Pa., wrote in USW@Work that his plant is “at risk” from “a flood of unfairly traded steel imports from places like China and Russia.”

That “jeopardizes our national security” since the plant produces plate and alloy for weapons and ships, says McManus, also president of the Chester County Labor Council.

“I’d hate to see Coatesville fall victim to unfair trade, which might mean our military would have to turn to China or Russia for steel,” he stated.

Meanwhile, Kaptur trusts Ross to produce the report with evidence to let Trump invoke Section 232, spokesman Josh Stewart said in a phone interview. But she’s wondering when.

“Your deadline has come and gone and the lives of Americans are at risk and Ohio steelworkers and businesses simply do not have time to wait,” she wrote Ross on August 11.

“As I emphasized in my testimony…we cannot slow-walk a national response that cedes our domestic steel’s future to a rigged predatory set of practices by other nations that win market share by violating the rules,” added Kaptur.

“Yet we are now nearly six weeks after a deadline you set yourself, for which thousands of steelworkers across the country who heard your promise for speedy action continue to wait. It is they who truly deserve an immediate response and plan for action from this administration.”

Specifically that action should include stopping foreign dumping of steel below-cost on the U.S. market – starting with dumped tubular piping — preserving modern U.S. steel capacity so U.S. plants can make weapons for U.S. forces, and developing “bridge financing” to “secure modernized U.S. steel capacity,” Kaptur told Ross.

It also means providing Trade Adjustment Assistance funds to help workers who lose their jobs to subsidized steel imports and “immediate retaliatory means to halt circumvention by China, South Korea, Russia, India, Vietnam and any state-directed economy that continues to harm the U.S.,” her letter said.

And just to make sure Ross gets the point, Kaptur again invited him to visit the steel plants in Lorain, Ohio, hurt by the dumped imports “so you can discuss with steelworkers and their families the administration’s plan to restore strength by creating a level playing field for U.S. steel producers.”

Kaptur is the leader among lawmakers concerned about subsidized steel imports, but not the only one. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., discussed the issue with Steelworkers members at an August 16 meeting in the union’s international headquarters in Pittsburgh.

Source: PAI