Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross ’59 announced last Thursday that the Commerce Department will investigate foreign steel dumping practices, particularly in the Chinese market.
In a White House press conference, Ross said the Commerce Department has 25 pending cases related to foreign steel, but that action in each case is limited by excessively specific terms. The impending investigation will mitigate this problem by considering foreign and domestic steel markets comprehensively, Ross said. He added that trade between the United States and China has been a priority, and this investigation aligns directly with objectives that President Donald Trump set forth during his 2016 campaign to crack down on illegal foreign trade practices.
“Foreign nations are dumping vast amounts of steel all over the United States, which essentially is killing our steel workers and steel companies,” Trump said in an April 20 press release. “We will put new American steel into the spine of this country. We’re going to use American steel. We’re going to use American labor.”
According to Ross, steel imports rose 19.6 percent within the first few months of 2017 to make up 26 percent of the U.S. steel market as a whole. Imports “seriously [impact]” the domestic industry, which is currently operating at 71 percent capacity. It is also unclear whether domestic steel producers have the skill set to rapidly produce the complex alloys for armor plates and other materials needed in the event of a national security threat. The Commerce Department will research the amount of time necessary to develop these skills domestically, Ross said.
He added that his department does not plan to take immediate action now but may impose tariffs after the investigation, if necessary.
Although some reporters raised questions about Chinese retaliation in response to the investigation, Ross assured that no direct action against Chinese steel is planned and that national defense will still be prioritized. China currently has half of the world’s steel capacity and exports approximately the same amount of steel that the United States consumes, which Ross said has raised concerns in the Commerce Department.
After Ross’ announcement, domestic steel producers saw noticeable stock growth and several publicly commended the investigation, according to the Financial Times. In a press release last Thursday, United States Steel Corporation expressed support for the Commerce Department’s investigation, citing widespread unemployment of American steel workers caused indirectly by illegal practices of foreign producers.
“For too long, China and other nations have been conducting economic warfare against the American steel industry by subsidizing their steel industries, distorting global markets and dumping excess steel into the United States. The effects have been staggering … We have offered the Commerce Department our full cooperation during its investigation,” the press release stated.
Roger Newport, CEO of AK Steel, also applauded the investigation in an interview with CNN. AK Steel is the only company which produces carbon, stainless and electric steel in the United States, Newport said, so the company is familiar with the effects of foreign electrical steel imports. Regardless of economic consequences, Newport emphasized the importance of eliminating the dependence of the nation’s electrical grid on foreign producers, particularly in the event of a national crisis.
Still, some foreign steel producers have criticized the administration’s decision. According to Tadaaki Yamaguchi, the chairman of the Japan Steel Information Center, the investigation could negatively affect industries within the U.S. economy, such as construction and manufacturing, which rely heavily on steel imports.
“There are far more American jobs at stake in the steel consuming sector than there are in domestic steel production and this action will put many American jobs at risk because prices will rise and competition will decline,” Yamaguchi told the Washington Post. “Anti-competitive action and protectionism is not the American way. All this is doing is rigging the system and corrupting the marketplace.”
The Department of Commerce has conducted 152 cases related to improper steel importation, 25 of which are pending.