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Visclosky: Steel industry's woes not self-inflicted

Congressman Pete Visclosky addressing the Lake County Economic Alliance in March. This week, the Congressman renewed his call for steel tariffs.

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, asked the federal government to impose a new round of tariffs on hot-rolled steel from Korea and six other countries.

Visclosky called for more protection from “foreign competitors who cheat and choose to continually disregard our trade laws.” The United States is looking at imposing anti-dumping tariffs of up to 49 percent on hot-rolled steel flat products from Australia, Brazil, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

“Hot-rolled steel is made in Northwest Indiana. Hardworking men and women in my district work every single day to manufacture the product we are discussing, and they are doing it more efficiently than anyone else in the world,” he testified Thursday to the International Trade Commission.

Visclosky told the commission steelworkers and managers in his district know they are doing their part to remain competitive, but in the back of their minds, the threat of illegal imports is unrelenting.

Imports are threatening good jobs and the very existence of the American steel industry, even though it’s the most efficient in the world, Visclosky said. Northwest Indiana’s steel mills on Lake Michigan needed an average of 10.1 man hours to produce a ton of steel in the 1980s, but only need 1.9 man hours today.

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“Yet despite being on the cutting edge of technology, American steel companies are faced with constant layoffs, idling and closures,” Visclosky told the commission. “It is clear to me that these wounds are not self-inflicted. The problem is not that our workers can’t keep up with the capabilities of other countries, it’s that they’re being cheated out of the opportunity to compete fairly.”

According to the American Iron and Steel Institute, imports reached an all-time record of 29 percent market share last year, higher than the import crisis in the early 2000s when around 30 American steelmakers went bankrupt. Visclosky said the same repeat offenders are to blame every time.

Tariffs serve as a deterrent to stop the dumping of steel, or when foreign steelmakers unload it for less in the United States than it could be sold for back home, sometimes at a loss, to gain market share.

“The world is watching to see if the United States will send an irrefutable message to these repeat offenders that illegal trade will not be tolerated,” Visclosky said. “It is past time to stop illegal trade.”

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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.