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Another administration gives steel industry short shrift



Published: Tue, May 29, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Clinton administration abandoned American steel workers and the American steel industry in their time of need. Time after time, the administration refused to take the tough action that was needed against nations that were dumping their steel on U.S. markets at bargain-basement prices.

We had hoped that things would improve when President George W. Bush moved into the White House. After all, his vice presidential candidate, Dick Cheney, made a campaign stop in Weirton, W. Va., where he announced that a Bush administration would "respond swiftly and firmly" if trade partners violate international law.

That was welcome news in Weirton, headquarters of the Weirton Steel Corp. Both company officials and Weirton's 3,500 employees have been complaining for years about the effects of unfair trade on the U.S. steel industry. They only had to look as far as nearby Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. to see how bad things could get. Wheeling-Pittsburgh is one of 19 steel companies that have filed for bankruptcy since 1997.

Losses mount: Weirton got another taste of reality this year, when it reported a first-quarter net loss of $75.3 million. Even closer to home for the Mahoning Valley, Cleveland-based LTV Corp., which is also one of those 19 companies that have filed for bankruptcy, announced April losses of $49 million. That brings LTV's losses in the last year and a half to $1 billion.

Are all of these losses attributable to unfair trade? No, not all of them. But there is no doubt that a sizable number are. A number of nations have made a decision to sell their steel products in the United States at less than it costs to make the product because even if they're losing money on those particular sales, they are keeping their plants up and running and their people at work.

They're not only exporting their products to the United States, they're exporting their potential unemployment problems.

The countries win, and, to an extent, the U.S. buyers of these cut-rate products win because they save a few dollars, but American workers and the federal government are the big losers.

Latest response: Last week, American steel producers took their complaints to Washington, hoping for the quick action that Vice President Cheney had once promised. What they got was the same kind of backpedaling they'd become used to when Bill Clinton was in the White House.

The Commerce Department issued a release saying that, "the U.S. government will explore ways to eliminate market conditions hurting the industry's ability to compete."

Somehow we don't find that very encouraging. In fact, we find it down right discouraging.

How many steel companies have to file for bankruptcy before the crisis is recognized? Apparently, 19 isn't enough, so perhaps the folks at Commerce could tell us what the magic number is going to be. How many plants are going to have to be shut down? How many must face going on the auction block where mills will be chopped up and their components shipped off to the highest bidders?

As far as we're concerned, one is too many, and that one is CSC Corp. in Warren.

Time to act: It is time for the Bush administration to recognize its obligation to American companies whose ability to compete has been undermined and to the stockholders and workers whose lives are being disrupted by decidedly unfair trade.

The Commerce Department shouldn't be "looking for ways" to eliminate predatory market conditions, they should be punishing those countries that have violated our trust, violated our laws and put the well being of their workers above ours -- all with the acquiescence of President Clinton, and now President Bush.

Mr. President, the 1974 Fair Trade Act gives you the authority to impose quotas, increase tariffs or make other trade adjustments in this time of crisis for the American steel industry. Use it. Use it now. Before it's too late.




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