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Feds complete Section 232 investigation into foreign steel dumping

A worker inspects rolls of coiled steel plate in a barge in the city of Smederevo outside Belgrade, Serbia. The U.S. Department of Commerce has finalized its investigation into whether some foreign steel imports should be restricted on national security grounds. 

Darko Vojinovic, Associated Press

The U.S. Department of Commerce has finally completed its much-anticipated Section 232 report on whether foreign steel imports are threatening national security and should be further restricted.

Dozens of tariffs are currently imposed on individual steel products from certain countries found to be violating trade laws. But steel imports remain elevated at historic rates and were up 15.5 percent last year, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.

The administration has been investigating the use of Section 232, the so-called "nuclear option" that would allow for an unprecedented clampdown on foreign-made steel that could include quotas or outright bans on all steel products from certain countries. Expectation of a Section 232 crackdown on imports helped restore steel prices last year, and drove up the stock prices of U.S. steelmakers.

U.S. Steel, ArcelorMittal USA and other domestic steelmakers have been awaiting the adjudication of the case, which is now in the hands of President Donald Trump.

“With the completion of the Department of Commerce’s investigation, United States Steel Corporation encourages President Trump to take swift and decisive action," U.S. Steel said in a statement. "Our nation cannot afford to allow the continued rise of foreign imports that undermine America’s capacity to produce the steel necessary for our country’s national and economic security.”

Steelmakers have been arguing that imports under fair market value have undercut the business of steel mills in the United States, which could result in plant closings and layoffs. They warn the United States could be left without much of a steel industry and be at the mercy of foreign countries if it ever needed to ramp up production of tanks and ships during wartime.

“The steel industry welcomes the news that the secretary of commerce has formally submitted his report to the president in the Section 232 investigation into the impact of steel imports on the national security," American Iron and Steel Institute President and CEO Thomas Gibson said. "We are confident that we have made the case that the repeated surges in steel imports in recent years threaten to impair our national security and we look forward to the president’s decision on the appropriate actions to address this critical situation.”

The White House could take action sometime over the next few months.

"Although the report is not yet public, we believe that the investigation findings will confirm what domestic steelmakers already know. Imports of certain steel products to the United States should be restricted on national security grounds," Steel Manufacturers Association President Philip Bell said. "The President now has 90 days to determine what actions and remedies will be taken to deal with this existential threat. We are confident that President Trump takes actions and proposes remedies that are broad, meaningful and impactful. That is the only way we can begin to significantly reduce the many tons of illegally and unfairly imported steel that finds its way to our shores.”

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Business reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.