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Dumping crackdown called 'a great day for steel'

Longshoremen at the Port of Indiana help guide coils of steel as they are unloaded from a barge in 2013. President Barack Obama signed a new law that will empower U.S. Customs and Border Protection to crack down on steel dumpers that duck tariffs.

President Barack Obama signed a customs bill Wednesday that contains added protections for the domestic steel industry, whose advocates hailed it as a "good news day" and even a "great day."

"Duplicitous foreign countries and foreign companies have been circumventing our trade laws to dump illegal steel into our markets for far too long," said U.S. Rep.  Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, who serves on the Congressional Steel Caucus. "I was proud to support the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 in the House of Representatives and I am pleased that President Obama has now signed it into law.

Visclosky said the bill provides improved tools that will greatly assist U.S. Customs and Border Protection in its efforts to prevent illegal steel imports, thus saving American jobs.

The Steel Caucus will work to see that the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 is enforced, Visclosky said. It empowers U.S. Customs and Border Protection to initiate investigations into steel dumpers who duck tariffs on steel imports, such as by misrepresenting the country it came from.

A flood of imports has caused an unprecedented crisis for U.S. steelmakers, who announced 12,000 layoffs last year. ArcelorMittal and U.S. Steel, two of Northwest Indiana's largest employers, lost a combined $9.4 billion as imports seized a record 29 percent market share, which hurt sales and depressed prices.

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“The steel industry is in crisis, and we need to know that our laws are being vigorously enforced to fight back against importers who try to cheat at our rules," American Iron and Steel Institute President Thomas Gibson said.

U.S. steelmakers and their workers are suffering partly because of "trade schemes" that let illegally subsidized steel flow in, Gibson said.

"This law will now provide the U.S. government the ability to investigate these schemes and, therefore, enable the steel industry to seek remedies and help preserve American jobs that have been lost due to these and other unfair practices," he said. "We appreciate the administration's commitment to work with Congress and enact this crucial legislation, and look forward to working closely with them to ensure thorough implementation of these new tools."

The bill will help American workers, but more is needed, Alliance for American Manufacturing President Scott Paul said.

"The playing field is now a little more level for American workers and businesses who are victims of unfair trade practices like foreign dumping and predatory subsidies," Paul said. "This is a step forward, but the bill missed the opportunity to address currency manipulation, which continues to cause American job loss."

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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.