GUEST COMMENTARY: Steel tariffs needed because of existing harm

NWI Times

As vice chairman of the Congressional Steel Caucus, I supported the president’s initiative to undertake the Section 232 investigation of the consequences of illegally traded steel on our national security and economy and I appreciate his action.

I will continue to closely monitor the implementation and enforcement of this action, particularly as it relates to exemptions or modifications for countries, products, or the duration of the relief.

A robust and viable domestic steel industry is essential to the strength of America’s national security. 55,000 tons of steel are used in every U.S. aircraft carrier, and half of that steel is produced right here in Northwest Indiana. In applications ranging from tanks to Stinger missiles, and from armor plate to field artillery pieces, virtually every military platform is dependent on U.S.-produced steel. Without American steel, the Department of Defense would be forced to rely on foreign imports, which would be unacceptable during a national emergency or military conflict.

The strength of the American steel industry has been decimated in years past by illegal imports.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, there are currently 212 antidumping and countervailing duty orders in place on steel and steel-related products from over 30 countries. This accounts for about 50 percent of all active orders on imports, and there are an additional 27 active investigations currently occurring on steel and steel-related products.

In each of these active duty orders, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission determined through their judicial proceedings that the domestic steel industry was injured or that there was a threat of injury due to the illegal trading practices of a foreign country.

Steel is the foundation of the Northwest Indiana economy, and as more than 100,000 people have lost steel-related jobs across the country in the past decades, our region’s communities continue to bear the injury of illegal imports.

Admittedly, some of this job loss occurred because of improvements within the industry itself. For example, the American Iron and Steel Institute has indicated that labor productivity in the American steel industry has improved five-fold since the early 1980s. They also report that since 1990, energy intensity per ton of steel produced has decreased by 31 percent and carbon dioxide emissions have decreased by 36 percent per ton of steel.

The challenge of the American steel industry is not of its own making, as steelmakers have constantly strived to continue to make a superior product in our global market. Their challenge is the numbing global excess steel capacity and the illicit steel trading practices of those who have exported their unemployment to the United States.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, global excess steel capacity in 2017 totaled 700 million metric tons, which is more than eight times the output of all American steel producers. The countries that produce this overcapacity do not play by our market-based rules. They operate from state-owned enterprises, receive illegal government subsidies, do not adhere to the same labor and environmental standards of our country, and threaten to flood our market at a moment’s notice. Some countries are also very adept at masking the country of origin of a product and evading U.S. duty orders by simply routing their products through other countries.

For those who argue that implementing the recommendations from the Section 232 investigation will start a trade war, the evidence above shows we are already well into one.

To do nothing to protect Americans workers because those who harm us today threaten to harm us tomorrow is ludicrous.

On a legal and level playing field, American steelworkers can compete with anyone in the world, and the U.S. government has a responsibility to ensure that a legal and level playing field is maintained every day. I will continue to do all I can to support the American steel industry and the strength they provide to our national security and our economy.