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Steel imports fall 9 percent in August, still up year-over-year

Longshoremen work to unload coils of steel from the hold of the Federal in the Port of Indiana Burns Harbor in 2014. Foreign-made steel has 30 percent market share so far this year.

Steel imports may finally be letting up a little.

The imports that have inflicted a huge amount of damage on Northwest Indiana's steel industry fell by 9 percent in August, according to the U.S. Commerce Department's most recent Steel Import Monitoring and Analysis data.

Foreign-made steel accounted for only 26 percent of U.S. market share last month, which is significantly lower than it's been all year, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute. Domestic steelmakers, including ArcelorMittal USA and U.S. Steel, recently filed three major trade cases against most significant importers of common steel products to try to stem the tide.

Import permit applications decreased to 3 million net tons in August from 3.3 tons in July. Finished steel, which often doesn't need any further processing that would support U.S. jobs, slid 9 percent to 2.33 million tons in August from 2.57 million tons in July.

Wire rod imports were up 36 percent in August, and tin plate rose by 21 percent. So far this year, the United States has seen huge increases in imports of reinforcing bar, line pipe, standard pipe, tin plate, sheets and strip hot dipped galvanized, and cold-rolled sheets.

Finished steel imports are up 6 percent year to date. Total imports are down by 2 percent when compared to the record pace in 2014, when foreign-made steel seized 28 percent of U.S. market share.

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So far this year, finished steel has grabbed 30 percent of the U.S. market, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.

The United States's overall trade deficit stood at $41.9 billion in July, down from $45.2 billion in June. China accounts for about $31.57 billion, or 75 percent, of the total U.S. deficit in international goods and services.

"While the overall trade deficit shrank in July, I see disturbing signs ahead for manufacturing," Alliance for American Manufacturing President Scott Paul said.

"Remember, China didn't devalue the yuan until August, so look for continued deterioration of our trade picture with China. Auto imports – which hit a new record in July – are rising, thanks largely due to a strong dollar. Our trade deficits with mercantilist nations like Japan, China and Korea are on the rise. If the Fed raises rates, the dollar could go even higher."

The Alliance for American Manufacturing, a group that represents both industry and labor, is calling on Washington to take action to protect factory jobs, such as by naming China a currency manipulator and allowing trade cases based on currency manipulation that makes foreign-made goods artificially cheaper.

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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.