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Steel imports

Workers unload wrapped steel coils off a ship at the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor. A government report finds the United States has been lax in collecting tariffs.

U.S. Sen Dan Coats is calling for the collection of back-tariffs after a government office found the United States had failed to collect $2.3 billion from anti-dumping and countervailing duties on imports such as steel.

“Even though CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) is legally directed to collect all of these fees, the Government Accountability Office recently discovered that from 2001 to 2014 CBP has failed to collect about $2.3 billion in anti-dumping and countervailing duties,” Coats said. “Now there are a number of reasons why CBP has trouble collecting these fees, but one key reason is CBP does not always collect the fees once an item is initially imported.”

Coats, chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, brought up the uncollected tariffs during a “Waste of the Week” speech, in which he highlights what he says are wastes of tax dollars. Countervailing tariffs are imposed on imports that benefited from government subsidies that enable them to lower the sales price, while anti-dumping duties are applied when foreign companies unload products here for less than what they cost to make.

“They’re not even trying to regain their costs,” Coats said. “They want a market share. They dump products in the United States that undercuts our American-made goods. I will not stand for that. I will not support that.”

Companies like ArcelorMittal and U.S. Steel seek the tariffs as protection through a judicial process, often spending $2 million to $2.5 million to try to stop the unfairly traded imports.

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The United States has 41,000 uncollected tariff bills on imports like steel, which are an average of 4.5 years old, according to the Government Accountability Office. About 1,000 of the bills are between 10 and 13 years old, which Coats said was “simply not acceptable.”

“When CBP is waiting that long to try to collect money owed to the United States, it is no wonder that some companies no longer ship to the U.S. or have been dissolved,” Coats said.

Duties are supposed to be collected within the first six months. About half the $2.3 billion foreign manufacturers owe in tariffs have been written off as “uncollectable.”

“American manufacturers work tirelessly to compete on a global market, sometimes against those that do not play by the rules,” said Coats. “This is one reason why I supported bipartisan legislation that was enacted earlier this year that would give CBP the tools necessary to better enforce our trade laws, such as requiring CBP to better track which foreign companies may be less likely to pay fees owed to the U.S.”

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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.