The Valley takes a direct hit in South Korea’s war on US jobs

Six decades ago, the United States valiantly came to the defense of South Korea in a war against Communist expansionism, costing this country more than 33,000 lives. Sixty-one years after the end of that conflict, South Korea is waging war against America, costing the U.S. thousands of jobs. Its brutal economic attack has hit the Mahoning Valley particularly hard.

Today’s conflict stems from South Korea’s production of oil country tubular goods (OCTGs), mostly steel pipes for the burgeoning U.S. oil and gas drilling industry. It is selling these products far below production costs and dumping 98 percent of them in the United States.

The casualty toll of such grossly unfair trade practices continues to soar:

The U.S. has reached a record trade deficit of $2.3 billion with South Korea. That’s a far cry from the “jump-start” to the U.S. economy promised in a so-called fair-trade agreement with the East Asian nation in 2012.

As of March 2014, the trade deal had cost 60,000 American jobs, mostly in OCTGs, with the potential to steal an additional 500,000 jobs, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Just this month, U.S. Steel announced it will indefinitely shut down two plants, including one in McKeesport, Pa., that manufacture steel tubular products.

In the Valley, 40 steelworkers have been laid off at Warren’s Wheatland Steel plant, and the dumping threatens jobs and growth at Youngstown’s mammoth Vallourec complex and Brookfield’s expanding TMK-IPSCO plant. All manufacture products for the oil and gas industry.

In the face of such attacks, the Mahoning Valley is indeed fortunate to have amassed an impressive and aggressive army. Our congressional delegation and the three major Valley OCTG producers are on the front lines to repel the harmful trade attack.

Specifically, Vallourec, Wheatland Tube and TMK-IPSCO are among several American companies that have petitioned the Commerce Department to act to repel the attack. Their initial pleas, however, fell on deaf ears as Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker cleared South Korean pipe producers of selling at artificially low prices to undercut U.S. producers in a preliminary ruling earlier this year.

Commerce ruling

In that Feb. 19 ruling, Commerce found that imports of eight countries were dumped in American markets, resulting in levying tariffs from 3 to 118 percent on their OCTG imports. Commerce, however, excluded South Korea despite strong and well-documented evidence of that nation’s violation of fair-trade policies.

Enter U.S. Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. The two wrote a letter of protest to Commerce, supported by 57 other senators, appealing the preliminary decision and recommending its reversal when the final ruling is issued July 10.

“South Korea has no domestic [pipe] market, and the steel they’re producing does not have the quality,” Brown said. “The facts are on our side.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, has led the charge in the House, where a similar letter has been drafted and sent to Commerce. On a nationally televised cable news show this spring, Ryan called exclusion of South Korea from the list of dumpers “a hurtful omission.”

The OCTG producers and the congressmen deserve all the reinforcements they can muster as the D-Day for the future of American OCTG producers looms next month. America’s hoped-for economic boom in drilling-support industries is at serious risk.

As Robert Powelson, chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, put it, “This is a battle that our state and nation cannot afford to lose.”

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