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CROWN POINT — U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, covered a wide range of topics Thursday during his first stop in a series of forums he will hold in Northwest Indiana.

About 50 to 60 people turned up at Crown Point Community Library to listen and ask questions of the congressman, who talked about everything from recent legislation concerning the steel industry, to the expansion of the South Shore rail line, to the opening of a U.S. Customs facility at Gary/Chicago International Airport.

In his opening remarks, Visclosky addressed recently passed legislation he said will help the U.S. International Trade Commission move quicker on some of its investigations.

Previously, the International Trade Commission's inquiries took so long that the companies and employees involved sometimes were no longer around by the time a determination was made, he said. Visclosky explained part of the problem was that some countries don't want to participate in the investigations and don't provide needed information.

Visclosky said the new legislation will allow the commission to use historical data and other information to make determinations about whether steel has been illegally traded without having to rely on uncooperative countries.

"This is going to give us a greater ability to assess these injuries (to domestic manufacturers) more accurately and in a more timely fashion," he said.

Other legislation underway, he said, will give the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency more ability to initiate investigations of companies working to avoid U.S. trade laws as well as set deadlines for completion of such inquiries.

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U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, a Democrat representing Minnesota's Iron Range, has proposed a five-year ban on steel imports. Visclosky said he wouldn't co-sponsor such a measure, which he believes violates international law. But he supports the political statement he thinks Nolan made with such a proposal.

Visclosky also said he will oppose a proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, which he believes is likely to be considered by Congress this year. He noted he has opposed other trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he thinks have led to the loss of domestic manufacturing jobs, including jobs in the steel industry.

"I think it is just unfair to expect American workers to compete with those in countries where there are no labor standards at all, where there are no environmental standards at all and where there are countries that manipulate their currencies," he told the gathering in Crown Point.

While Visclosky said steel and oil are the foundations of Northwest Indiana's economy, he also spoke of the need to diversify. He said one of the components in making the economy more diverse involves the Gary/Chicago International Airport. He said he is working with Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson in attempting to secure a U.S. Customs facility for the airport, which he thinks will attract more cargo and passengers.

Visclosky also spoke of the need to try to open up more of the Lake Michigan shoreline, which he also thinks could spur economic development. He also said the economy would benefit with the improvement and expansion of the South Shore line.

He said half of the capital construction costs of the expansion would come from federal dollars, which would be a return on the tax money that the Region already sends to Washington, D.C. 

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