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Domestic steel industry wins big in trade case

A combine cuts durum near an oil well in 2008 in Tioga, N.D. U.S. steelmakers petitioned the federal government for trade relief, arguing a flood of unfairly subsidized imports of steel oil well casings and other oil country tubular products kept them from benefiting from the shale oil boom. The International Trade Commission backed domestic steelmakers Friday, imposing duties from South Korea and five other countries.

U.S. Steel, Chicago-based JMC Steel Group and seven other companies have pressed the case for more than a year that they have not been able to reap the benefits of the booming U.S. shale oil and gas sector because of a flood of heavily subsidized imports.

Workers who produce steel oil well casings and other oil country tubular goods were laid off. Orders fell. Factories were mothballed. Union members staged rallies across the country to save their jobs.

The U.S. International Trade Commission took action. On Friday, the federal agency approved anti-dumping or countervailing duties against South Korea, India, Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam, which collectively account for 90 percent of the imports U.S. steelmakers say are unfairly traded. The federal agency dropped Saudi Arabia from the case and determined the Philippines and Thailand have not hurt the domestic industry. 

"I am pleased that the International Trade Commission sent the message to these six countries that we will not tolerate their illegal imports," U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., said. "American jobs are at stake, and these illegal trading practices jeopardize our nation's industrial base. I commend the American steel companies and all steelworkers for their tireless advocacy on this issue. I stand with you and I will continue to fight to protect American jobs against unfair trade from countries anywhere in the world."

The $10.1 billion a year market is huge for Northwest Indiana mills. Roughly a third of the flat-rolled steel made in the region goes into oil and gas pipe for the energy industry. Tejas Tubular Products, one of the companies that pressed for tariffs, is opening a $12.1 million well casings plant in New Carlisle that will get most of its metal from local ArcelorMittal plants.

More than 8,900 workers make steel oil pipes in 12 states, including Indiana.

"Unfairly traded-imports of OCTG from these countries have been very damaging to American steel producers, taking away significant sales in the energy sector, which should be a bright spot for the industry given increased oil and gas development in the U.S.," said Thomas Gibson, president of the American Iron and Steel Institute.

U.S. Steel, whose stock price surged after the ruling was announced, said it would consider further actions against the three of the nine countries in the trade case that will not face tariffs. The Pittsburgh-based steelmaker will evaluate all its options, including litigation, against Saudi Arabia, Thailand and the Philippines. 

"The International Trade Commission's diligent and conscientious investigation and affirmative final vote clearly recognized that these six countries, which represent more than 90 percent of the unfairly traded imports that entered the U.S. market in 2013, imported OCTG using unfair methods and market distorting pricing," Chief Executive Officer Mario Longhi said. "The dumped imports from all nine countries have caused material injury to the American market and the American worker."

The ruling moves the domestic Oil Country Tubular Goods market closer to a level playing field for the American worker, United Steelworkers International President Leo Gerard said.

But more work needs to be done to enforce existing trade laws, Gerard said. Enforcement agencies need to be better funded to prevent a flood of unfairly subsidized imports, he said.

"Too often, when our laws are violated by our trading partners, it is workers and not their government who have to fight for what’s right," he said. "Our government and Congress should take the lead on these issues. Until that time, we will continue to be confronted by a trade policy where we only win by losing due to our government's misguided approach that requires workers and industries be injured before they can get relief."

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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.