Steel trade is trending: Now a main point in the US conversation on #GlobalTrade

Steel trade may not be hash-tagged on social media as much as Steph or LeBron, but American steelmakers are hitting shots from almost every spot on the floor as they take aim against what they steadfastly maintain are illegally traded steel imports.

From Main Street USA to The Mall in DC, people now get it: Steel is relevant. Global trade is a huge issue. #TrumpSaysSo

“I want trade deals, but they have to be great for the United States and our workers,” presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump said in a speech on June 22. “We don’t make great deals anymore, but we will once I become president.” #UnlessItsHillary

Just a couple weeks before, Hillary Clinton received a key labor endorsement from the United Steelworkers union. “Secretary Clinton has promised to fight for fair, not just free trade, and has vowed to oppose the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP),” said USW President, Leo Gerard. #ManufacturingSwingStates

The US International Trade Commission recently found that US mills were materially injured or threatened with injury by unfairly traded cold-rolled steel coil imports from China and Japan. All six ITC commissioners voted affirmatively – meaning that combined antidumping and countervailing duty margins of 522% for all Chinese steelmakers and AD margins of 71.35% for Japan’s producers were finalized. #HeftyDuties

In 2015, 70% of the 64 trade cases launched by the US Department of Commerce were for steel products. #CorrosionResistant #Tubing #ColdRolledCoil #HotRolledCoil #StainlessPipe #WeldedPipe

Statistics like that have put steel at center court of the current trade debate.

But it’s not just about the numbers. Legislators in Washington, elected local leaders, and government officials at a number of agencies are listening — perhaps more than ever to the case of steel. #LevelingthePlayingField

But why now? And how?

“We got the facts,” answers Thomas Gibson, president and CEO of the Washington-based American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), which serves as the voice of the North American steel industry, supporting and lobbying on behalf of member companies that represent more than 75% of US/North American steel capacity. #SteelMatters

In an interview with S&P Global Platts, Gibson agreed that the lobbying has been intense and effective. He’s quick to modestly explain: “The facts are our best allies on this. And the facts about China’s rise, China’s role, the amount of [steel] overcapacity that exists in China, are very hard to refute.” #TakeThatChina #NotProtectionismEnforcement

Connecting the cold facts to heated emotions has also resonated with elected leaders, policy makers — even the general public. “There’s also the pain that has been felt in the United States from the steel layoffs [about 15,000 in the last 18 months]… it’s been a real loss to workers across the industry,” Gibson explains, adding, “And those workers — those companies and our allies, such as the USW (United Steelworkers) — have made that pain plain and apparent to their elected leaders when they go back home. The companies, the union, we’ve all been doing a good job of it. It’s not all lobbying only in DC, it’s the activity done in local districts, to communicate with legislative representatives back home.”#AllTheTools

The grassroots effort, however, has also been fertilized by something else.

“The trade issue has been prominent throughout this [presidential election] campaign season too,” Gibson says. #Trump #BernieMostly

He explains that the presidential campaign season starts so early now that the timing was ideal. The steel import surge, the trade case filings by US producers, and many of the preliminary decisions were hitting as campaigns were underway. #Convergence

First came the debate on the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) last year, which provided US steelmakers with a vehicle to get the trade laws improved. The Trade Preferences Extension Act was then signed into law on June 29, 2015, revising a key standard that essentially made it easier to prove injury in trade cases. #NotAllGridlock

“We leveraged that,” continues Gibson, “and it allowed us to raise these issues around what happens when trade is distorted and that gave us a great platform to both educate legislators, educate Congress about it, and to move forward.” #BipartisanSupport

The TPP — Trans-Pacific Partnership — which has been addressed in recent months by virtually all presidential candidates, was connected to the TPA. For the steel sector, diligence converged with daylight.

“It was a lot of work for a lot of years — the [Obama] administration wanting to get TPP passed, so they first needed to finalize TPA (for its fast-tracking), and that gave us an opportunity to get the trade law improvements done and ENFORCE, which came later, but was part of the package. So it was hard work meeting opportunity,” says Gibson.

Despite some big wins, American steel industry leaders like Mario Longhi, CEO of US Steel, and John Ferriola, CEO of Nucor, are not quite ready to cut down the nets. Both were adamant again at the recent Steel Success Strategies conference in New York that enforcing the rules of free trade “is not protectionism.” Both executives maintained that steel companies in the US will continue to use all the tools available to them to stop illegal imports. #RuleofLaw


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