Saving steel jobs in Cleveland and beyond

Aug122016

OPINION EDITORIAL
Friday, August 12, 2016

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to walk the factory floor of ArcelorMittal USA's steel facility in Cleveland. Joined by Sen. Sherrod Brown, I saw firsthand how American workers use the latest technology to manufacture the steel that, in turn, forms the foundation of everything from our cars to the bridges they drive on.

America's steel industry has served as a backbone for our economy since the 19th century. Indeed, over time it has been a source of pride and livelihoods for hundreds of thousands of American workers and their families. But today, that industry is in crisis.

After touring ArcelorMittal's factory, I traveled to the United Steelworkers Local hall in Lorain, where Sen. Brown and I met with local leaders and steelworkers, some of whom had been laid off from their jobs.

These workers made it clear that the downturn of the U.S. steel industry has altered the very way of life in places like Lorain. What was once a thriving city has seen its infrastructure in disrepair and too many of its local businesses close up shop.

The root of the problem stems from a global glut of steel production, some of which is unfairly subsidized by foreign governments or dumped in our market. Throughout 2015, the global price of steel plummeted; steel mills around the world closed; and thousands of jobs were lost, with thousands more at risk. Not surprisingly, as a result, more than 70 percent of the ongoing investigations into unfairly traded goods brought by the domestic industry involve steel-related products.

This is not just a macro-economic issue – the crisis facing our steel industry is personal. It's devastating American steel communities from coast to coast, and the Obama administration is doing everything we can to help.

At the U.S. Department of Commerce, we are fully committed to enforcing U.S. trade laws and ensuring that our trading partners comply with their obligations under the World Trade Organization and our free trade agreements. We are cracking down on companies and countries that don't play by the rules in record numbers.

Currently, we are enforcing 161 anti-dumping (AD) and countervailing duty (CVD) cases on steel products to combat the countries, like China, that are trying to dump steel on our market.  We are also stepping up AD/CVD enforcement at our borders, including the work of Customs and Border Protection with other trading partners to combat evasion of duties.

Congress, led by a committed group of members including Sen. Brown, recently provided us with new tools to more effectively enforce our trade laws by closing certain loopholes created by court decisions. For example, the new law strengthens our ability to deal with foreign producers that do not cooperate with our proceedings.

We are already seeing real results from our enforcement efforts.  Cliffs Natural Resources, a supplier of iron ore pellets for the steel industry, idled its Minnesota operations late last year after high levels of steel imports hurt demand for their product. Recently, the company announced that it will reopen its facilities earlier than expected, resulting in hundreds of jobs restored and benefits to entire communities.

At the same time, tackling individual cases isn't enough. We need to address the root of the problem: excess capacity of foreign steel that is being unfairly dumped into our market and in the markets of our competitors.

To address this global issue, the Commerce Department is now making more global steel trade data available than ever before to increase information and transparency to industry and government policymakers alike. Go to http://trade.gov/steel/global-monitor.asp to learn more.

These reports provide objective data and analysis in a user-friendly format on current steel trade trends as well as overall fluctuations in global steel trade patterns. This information will help stakeholders better understand the impact of excess capacity on steel market conditions around the world. We are also working directly with our trading partners to address the systemic causes of excess capacity, including the unique distortions created by the Chinese steel sector, and continue to actively engage at the highest levels of our government.

Through enforcement actions and engagements abroad, this administration is working towards both short-term improvements and long-term solutions to address the challenges facing the steel industry. We take seriously our ongoing responsibility to combat unfair trade that threatens the viability of this industry and the good people in our steel-making communities.

For more than 150 years, steelworkers have literally helped build America. Today, the Obama administration is taking significant steps to help those same steelworkers rebuild their communities.

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