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Section 232 steel tariffs mark 1-year anniversary

Workers secure multiple-ton coils of steel for unloading from the cargo ship Selinda at the Logistec USA terminal at the Adm. Harold E. Shear State Pier in New London, Connecticut. The United States imposed Section 232 tariffs of 25% a year ago last June.

The Section 232 steel tariffs imposed to help preserve the U.S. steel industry — in case it's ever needed in a time of war — turned 1 year old in June.

The 25% tariffs on steel imports and 10% on aluminum tariffs helped raise domestic steel prices, restore idled plants, like U.S. Steel's Granite Works in Illinois, and boost the profitability of U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal, two of Northwest Indiana's largest employers.

A study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics found the duties helped raise the price of steel in the United States by 9%.

Long-depressed steel capacity utilization in the United States is now consistently over 80% again, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.

After a rough patch in which imports caused thousands of steelworker layoffs nationwide a few years ago, Northwest Indiana's biggest steel companies have been investing again. U.S. Steel is pumping $750 million in Gary Works over the next few years and ArcelorMittal is investing $160 million in the hot mill, an in-line temper mill, new cranes and a new basic oxygen furnace vessel at Burns Harbor.

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But not everyone is a fan.

Critics say the tariffs hurt the bottom line of other manufacturers that consume steel and raise prices for consumers. The Coalition of American Metal Manufacturers and Users, which represents manufacturing companies that use steel, said the tariffs have resulted in lost business and long delivery times from U.S. suppliers that are swamped with orders.

"Over the past quarter, the monthly report has shown a slow, but steady, decline in Precision Metalforming Association members’ optimism regarding economic activity, reflected in their prediction of a slowdown in incoming orders," Precision Metalforming Association President David Klotz said. "The survey results coincide with reports from across the country that the steel and aluminum tariffs are taking a toll on steel- and aluminum-using manufacturers. PMA members are losing business to overseas competitors who are paying global market prices for steel while the United States continues to be an island of high steel prices due to the steel tariffs."

Thomas Gibson, president and CEO of the American Iron and Steel Institute, said there's still plenty of steelmaking overcapacity across the globe.

“China in particular is producing steel at record levels — exceeding 1 billion net tons in 2018. This means there is plenty of excess supply that will flood into our market but for the continuation of the Section 232 tariffs," he said. "The Section 232 trade remedy is critical to ensuring steel remains a vital asset for our national and economic security.”

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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.