Many residents vividly recall President Donald J. Trump’s rally in Youngstown last summer at which he raised hyperbole to incredible new heights in describing his vision for restoring the Mahoning Valley’s legacy steel industry.
In the chief executive’s fantasy, tens of thousands of jobs in steel-related industries would all be coming back to our region – pronto.
“We’re going to fill up those factories or rip them down and build new ones,” Trump said to about 8,000 of his disciples at Covelli Centre last July. He later added, “After years and years of sending our jobs and wealth to other countries, we are finally standing up for our workers and for our companies.”
The president now has the opportunity to fulfill part of his grandiose pledge by standing up for steel companies, their workers and their regional economies.
No, he can never restore the Youngs-town region to its standing as the third largest steel producer in the nation. But he can take action to assist the remaining steel-related manufacturers in our Valley and offer them a glimmer of hope for stability and growth.
He can do so by acting speedily to respond to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Commerce that he ordered last year on the impact of a flood of foreign – particularly Chinese – imports on the U.S. aluminum and steel industries.
After nine months of hearings and investigation, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross handed over findings to the president a couple of weeks ago. On Friday, Commerce released its recommendations publicly. They ask the president to implement tariffs on all steel and aluminum imports, higher tariffs on imports from specific countries or a quota on imports as means to protect our national security.
Under terms of Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act that Trump used to initiate the investigation, he has the power to unilaterally take those actions against nations exporting steel and aluminum products to the U.S. at excessively low prices.
We join Commerce leaders, major steel companies, workers and a bipartisan group of federal legislators in urging Trump to act firmly and expeditiously.
MEETING WITH PORTMAN, BROWN
Trump met earlier this week with a group of U.S. Congress members including Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, on the investigation and woes of the steel industry.
Portman suggested Trump take a “scalpel” approach to steel imports and impose tough restrictions on certain products, such as electrical steel.
Brown said, “The president must take strong actions that provide long-lasting relief aimed at China’s steel overcapacity. We know the delay and uncertainty around this case have hurt American companies.”
According to evidence submitted last summer to the Steel 232 case investigation, China alone produces 2,300 million metric tons of steel annually, despite the fact only 1,500 million metric tons are necessary to meet global demand. All those additional hundreds of millions of tons have been dumped on U.S. and other markets, thereby harming domestic producers such as Vallourec Star in Youngstown, Wheatland Tube in Warren and TMK IPSCO Steel in Brookfield.
Clearly there is a direct relationship between the rise in steel imports and the fall in U.S. steel production.
The International Trade Association’s January 2018 year-end report concluded that U.S. imports of steel products in 2017 amounted to 32.3 million metric tons, a 17 percent increase from the 27.5 million metric tons imported in 2016.
It should come as no surprise then that production of steel and steel products in the United States has been taking a hit. According to the American Iron and Steel Institute, U.S. production has fallen from 98 million tons in 2006 to 82 million tons in 2017.
Those trend lines prove there’s little time to waste. A group of 25 steel industry executives pressed that point in a letter to the president. It read in part, “Immediate action must meaningfully adjust imports to restore healthy levels of capacity utilization and profitability to the domestic industry over a sustained period.”
Although Trump has until April 11 to act under provisions of the 1962 law, we join those steel leaders and others in urging he waste no time in seizing the opportunity to offer a degree of fairness and hope to steel producers and workers throughout our Valley and our nation.