A significant federal govern- ment ruling last week that will buoy American manufacturers of steel pipe throughout the nation and in the Mahoning Valley proves that you can fight City Hall — and win.
In this controversial case, City Hall took the shape of the imposing U.S. Department of Commerce building on Constitution Avenue in our nation’s capital. Inside its cavernous halls, high-level government decision-makers ruled in February that South Korean pipe producers were not guilty of selling their products at artificially low prices to undercut U.S. producers, an unfair trade practice commonly known as “dumping.”
That misguided decision uncorked a gushing groundswell of opposition. The army of troops fighting the ruling soon ballooned into a formidable force that included major steel companies — including Vallourec Star in Youngstown, JMC Steel in Warren and TPC IPSCO in Brookfield — union and nonunion steelworkers and congressional activism led by Ohio’s two U.S. senators, Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Sherrod Brown, and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th.
The fight evolved into demonstrations at steel plants and town squares across America, aggressive appeals from U.S. Steel and other domestic steel-pipe suppliers, editorials urging reversal in this and many other American newspapers and a letter writing campaign that included 57 U.S. senators and 155 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The steelworkers, corporate leaders, opinion writers and a bipartisan coalition of Congress clearly had reason and fairness on their side. In the end, they would celebrate a clear and decisive victory. Last Friday, Commerce reversed its preliminary February ruling and recommended implementing tariffs of between 9.89 percent to 15.75 percent on the price of so-called Oil Country Tubular Goods (OCTGs) entering U.S. ports from South Korea.
That final ruling must now officially be ratified by the International Trade Commission, which is expected next month. There, as at the Department of Commerce, logic should prevail and a rubber stamp should be firmly and quickly affixed to the corrected decision.
That’s because evidence of South Korean dumping of steel products intended for this nation’s burgeoning drilling and energy industries has been overwhelming and irrefutable.
For starters, South Korea last year exported 894,300 metric tons of steel tubes into the United States at a value of more than $800 million, according to the Commerce Department. That represents nearly $1 billion unfairly sucked out of one of the most promising sectors of the U.S. economy.
As Ryan pointed out, the government subsidies for steel from South Korea were so high that the cost for the finished product from that Southwest Asian nation was the same as only the raw materials for U.S. firms. The result has been an explosion in imported OCTGs and reduced U.S. volume, layoffs and plant shutdowns in the U.S., with Ohio and Pennsylvania among the hardest hit states.
Reversal of the preliminary decision validates what most of us already knew. As the final ruling rightfully recognized, tariffs are needed to provide “relief from the market-distorting effects caused by injurious dumping and unfair subsidization of imports into the United States.”
The federal government’s change of heart also illustrates the importance of a cohesive, organized and vocal campaign to right a wrong — even one committed by those at highest echelons of our federal bureaucracy. Not only does the ruling reversal level the playing field for U.S. steel-pipe producers, it also forges renewed faith in the power of the people to effect positive and progressive change in our American democracy.