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Congressman proposes ban on steel imports

Longshoreman unload coils of steel from the Iryda at the Port of Indiana in 2010. A Minnesota Congressman is proposing a five-year ban on any steel imports to help the domestic industry get back on its feet.

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, a Democrat who represents Minnesota's Iron Range, which provides iron ore to the steel industry, is calling for a five-year ban on any steel imports.

The United States currently imposes 157 anti-dumping and countervailing tariffs against foreign-made steel, but they're often too low, and trade agreements are too riddled with loopholes for them to matter, Nolan said.

Minnesota has lost 1,750 mining and steelworker jobs in its Iron Range as a result of the import crisis, where cheap and often subsidized steel imports have captured nearly a third of the market share in the United States.

Nolan is proposing halting all foreign steel and steel products from entering America for five years, and also urging President Barack Obama to use his executive authority to impose tariffs high enough to block all foreign steel imports.

"We must confront and stop the illegal dumping of millions of tons of low-grade, foreign government-subsidized steel that has sent the Iron Range taconite mining industry – and America's steel industry – into the steepest decline in decades," Nolan said.

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, said he has not cosponsored the legislation but says imports must be cracked down on.

"However, I share his sentiment that we must continue to do all that we can to stop the influx of illegal steel imports," Visclosky said.

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"I am fighting every day to protect American steelworkers and manufacturers. We must hold other countries accountable to the same labor, safety, environmental, and market standards that we adhere to.”

The president could immediately end the crisis that led to layoffs and mill idlings nationwide by imposing tariffs that would make it unprofitable to ship steel into the United States, Nolan said. President George W. Bush took a similar action when steelmakers such as Bethlehem Steel and LTV Steel went bankrupt in the early 2000s, at a time when imports weren't as bad as they are now.

"We are asking the President for action the equivalent of what President Bush did in 2002 when our mining and steel industries faced similar dire crises," Nolan said.

"Bush used his executive authority to impose dramatic tariffs that had the effect of a moratorium. President Reagan acted in similar fashion in the 1980s, and in both cases our mining and steel industries quickly rebounded. If those dedicated 'free-traders' could see the light and stand up for American jobs and American workers, there's no reason President Obama can't do the same today."

America's steel industry should be doing well, Nolan said. But foreign steelmakers have muscled in with subsidies as high as 255 percent, which American companies don’t get.

"To be clear, there is plenty of demand for steel in the United States," Nolan said.

"Domestic steel consumption rose by 11.7 percent in 2014 alone. Unfortunately, foreign steel imports jumped by 36 percent last year, capturing their highest share of the U.S. market on record – and limiting growth in our domestic industry to just 3 percent. So the simple fact is – increased U.S. consumption is being supplied by illegal, subsidized foreign steel."

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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.