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Steel industry, USW applaud tariffs imposed by Trump administration

A worker inspects rolls of coiled steel plate in a barge in the city of Smederevo outside Belgrade, Serbia. The U.S. plans to impose tariffs of 25 percent on foreign-made steel except Canada and Mexico.

Darko Vojinovic, Associated Press

The steel industry is applauding the Trump administration's decision to impose tariffs of 25 percent on foreign steel, except from Canada and Mexico and potentially other U.S. allies.

“For far too long, steel imports have been allowed to undermine America’s steel strength," U.S. Steel CEO David Burritt said. "Our national security is only as strong as American steel. President Trump’s action will begin to level the playing field for the security and manufacturing strength of the United States.”

Alliance for American Manufacturing President Scott Paul said he hoped "the era of American trade surrender is coming to an end."

"Steel and aluminum workers are already being hired back, and as the result of stronger industries we believe these will be the first of many new jobs created in America’s manufacturing communities," he said.

Paul said tariffs were direly needed as employment in the domestic steel industry has fallen by a third since 2000 and 10 blast furnaces have been taken offline. 

"We expect these tariffs to lay the groundwork for a stronger economy and industrial base. And we are confident that steel consumers, most of whom are agile, profitable and flush with cash from the recent tax cut, can navigate this new landscape if importers choose to raise prices," Paul said. "It can’t end here, though. We must also invest in infrastructure with American steel, ensure American pipe is better utilized in our domestic energy renaissance, and renegotiate trade agreements fairly."

The United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said unfair trade, such as dumping heavily subsidized steel products below fair market value, has been threatening America's industrial base and good-paying jobs.

“For decades, the USW has fought foreign unfair and predatory trade practices to protect our members’ jobs and ensure a strong defense industrial base. From missiles and munitions, to motors and machinery, steel and aluminum are critical products used in direct military applications and in critical infrastructure," Gerard said. "For too long, common sense has fallen prey to free trade ideology, multinational corporations and special interest lobbyists who have profited at the expense of domestic production and employment. Trade cheating has, all too often, gone unanswered by our government. That’s had a crippling effect on good, family-supportive jobs and our ability to provide the needed products."

Majestic Steel USA President and CEO Todd Leebow said the United States long has been on the losing end of a trade war waged by countries like China that violate international trade agreements.

“While today’s proclamation will help protect American steelworkers from illegal dumping and circumvention schemes, the fight for our industry is only getting started," Leebow said. "I look forward to continued work with Administration officials to develop a long-term plan that ensures the success of America’s steel industry and the downstream manufacturers bolstered by its work.”

Thomas Gibson, president and CEO of the American Iron and Steel Institute, said the tariffs would help bring steelworkers back to work, such as the 500 returning to the job at Granite City Works in Illinois.

"The president’s commitment to addressing the steel crisis is already producing benefits in Granite City, Illinois, where U.S. Steel will be restarting one of the blast furnaces that has been idle since December 2015 due to global excess steel capacity and unfairly traded steel imports," Gibson said. "With the signing today, the steel industry can be on track to maintain our essential contributions to national security and critical infrastructure like transportation, public health and safety, energy and the power grid — all of which rely heavily on steel. We thank the president for his continued recognition of the nearly 1 million jobs supported by the domestic steel industry."

Many business interests, outside of the steel and aluminum industries, have voiced opposition to the tariffs, which they fear would make steel more expensive.

"These tariffs will damage downstream U.S. steel and aluminum consuming companies, as the U.S. will become an island of high steel prices that will result in our customers simply sourcing our products from our overseas competitors and importing them into the United States tariff-free," Roy Hardy, president of the Precision Metalforming Association, and Dave Tilstone, president of the National Tooling and Machining Association, said in a joint statement. "U.S. manufacturers who use steel employ more than 6.5 million Americans alone compared to the 140,000 employed by the domestic steel industry. These tariffs will threaten thousands of jobs across the United States, similar to our experience in 2002 when the U.S. imposed steel tariffs that resulted in the loss of 200,000 American manufacturing jobs despite Canada and Mexico being exempted from those tariffs as well."

The air conditioning industry warned duties on foreign-made steel would result in higher prices for consumers.

"As major users of steel and aluminum, we have been proactive in explaining to the administration that the HVACR and water heating industry would be negatively impacted by an increase in tariffs, as would the consumers that rely on the products we manufacture," said Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute President and CEO Stephen Yurek.


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.