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Steel companies send letter to president asking for tariffs

Rows of coil at the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor in 2011. Steel executives are asking the president for a crackdown on imports.

Times file

President Donald Trump talked about the need to preserve steelworker jobs while out on the campaign trail, and now steel executives are asking him to take action.

The Trump administration launched a Section 232 investigation into whether imports harmed national security, which could potentially result in further tariffs or even quotas that would strictly limit the amount of foreign-made steel allowed in. Steel prices in the U.S. have been up all year in anticipation of some sort of crackdown on imported steel.

But after backlash from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other industry groups, Trump said in July any tariffs would be delayed.

Now executives from 25 of America's leading steel companies, including ArcelorMittal USA CEO John Brett and U.S. Steel CEO David Burritt, wrote a letter encouraging the president to "take broad and decisive action to ensure the ability of the domestic steel industry to supply our nation’s defense and critical infrastructure needs."

"We encourage your administration to take immediate action under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to prevent excess steel capacity and surging steel imports from undermining the viability of the U.S. steel industry," the steel executives wrote. "As you know, excess capacity in many foreign countries is the main cause of the sustained surge in imports. The U.S. government has been trying to address overcapacity through multilateral organizations like the G-20 and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. So far, those efforts have failed to produce an effective solution, and the U.S. industry continues to suffer the consequences of foreign government inaction."

Imports caused thousands of steelworker layoffs nationwide in recent years, including at both U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal. Despite 190 tariffs and threats of more, imports are up 22 percent so far this year, and have a near record market share in the U.S.

"The need for action is urgent," the steelmaker CEOs wrote. "Since the 232 investigation was announced in April, imports have continued to surge. In June, steel imports hit their highest monthly total in more than two years by capturing 30 percent of the U.S. market."

Steel companies say imports often are illegally subsidized, making it hard for U.S. companies that receive no government subsidies to compete on price. They say many foreign steelmakers have cheated trade rules and are dumping steel, or selling it below cost and a reasonable profit margin with the long-term goal of stealing market share from domestic producers.

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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.