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The longer the American steel industry has to wait on tariffs, the more business imports will take away, and the more steel jobs will be at risk, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., told a crowd of steelworkers at Wheatland Tube, a major consumer of Northwest Indiana-made steel, during a Thursday appearance.

“America’s steel industry is critical for our national security and defense — and it provides good-paying jobs for hardworking Americans across our country," Duckworth said. "But in recent years, illegal dumping of foreign steel has forced American companies to lower production and shutter factories in places like Granite City, Illinois, which has left hardworking Americans struggling to provide for their families. For the sake of our national security and for workers in Granite City and at steel mills across Illinois and our country, it’s past time the President took action to level the playing field for our domestic steel industry. American manufacturers that both produce and depend on steel must be able to create good-paying jobs at home and increase domestic production.”

Last week, the U.S. Department of Commerce revealed it had recommended tariffs of 24 percent to 53 percent on foreign steel, and quotas that would cut imports by a third. U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary, the Congressional Steel Caucus, and U.S. Sens. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Todd Young, R-Ind., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., all have since encouraged President Donald Trump to take action, particularly against China.

After visiting the tube facility in the Back of the Yards neighborhood on Chicago's South Side, Duckworth said action was direly needed, since 50 percent of America's basic oxygen furnaces have closed or been idled since 2000, and employment in the steel industry has plunged by 35 percent since 1998. 

"A lot of folks who compete with us cheat," she said. "They engage in currency manipulation. Many pay their factories utility bills, which makes it easier for them to try to drive great businesses like this out of business. ... We need to try to get this fixed as quickly as possible. The longer we wait, the longer businesses like this continue to lose customers and go out of business. We can't let them waltz in and take over our steel business."

The American steel industry is vital to ensuring that the military can have all the ships, tanks and guns that it needs, Duckworth said.

"We cannot be a global leader without manufacturing," she said. "It's important to the strength of our country, and we always want to make sure the Department of the Defense has everything it needs."

Chicago-based Zekelman Industries, a steel pipe and tube manufacturer that owns Wheatland Tube and turns a lot of the flat-rolled steel made at Northwest Indiana mills into finished products, has been hoping for tariffs and quotas that would protect the American steel industry from imports that are often sold at a loss to gain market share.

"Action needs to be taken now," said Jim Hays, president of Electrical Products at Wheatland Tube. "Steel is vital to national security."

Duckworth called upon the president to take action against "bad actors" violating international trade deals by dumping steel below cost here, with an eye toward putting domestic producers out of business.

"I urged the Section 232 investigation to take place six months ago," she said. "The report has been sitting on Trump's desk. We're pushing hard for him to make a decision and grant comprehensive relief to the American steel industry."

Duckworth said further steps also were needed to ensure the viability of the American steel industry, such as a robust infrastructure plan that includes a Buy American provision, trade deals that are firm about labeling the true country of origin of imports, and adequate staffing of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to crack down on foreign-made steel. She also said the U.S. government, not individual steel companies, should have to go to international court to ensure trade deals are enforced fairly.

"On an equal footing, American steel can compete with anyone," she said. "We need to do what we can to ensure everyone plays fair on an international level and to promote American businesses by buying American products and using American products."


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.