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Steel fighting for tougher trade laws

Keywords: Tags  American Iron and Steel Institute, Steel Manufacturers Association, Nucor, U.S. Steel, trade laws, debt ceiling, Thomas Gibson, Thomas Danjczek Samuel Frizell

NEW YORK — U.S. steel interests are angling for stiffer trade regulations in 2013 in the face of possible financial crises, hoping that tougher enforcement will stimulate the industry as battles over fiscal policies continue in Washington.

"We’re still emerging from the great recession," one steel industry source said. "The industry’s only operating at 70 percent (of capacity). There’s a major concern of how our leaders resolve (fiscal issues)."

Industry leaders said companies are eager to see crackdowns on countries that trade unfairly. U.S. Steel Corp., Pittsburgh, and Nucor Corp., Charlotte, N.C., spent much of their 2012 lobbying budgets—$1.23 million and $1.18 million, respectively—on trade issues, according to congressional lobbying reports.

"Free trade only works if you have rules, and the rules must be enforced," the steel industry source said. "Any of our trading partners that play loose with the rules need to be held accountable."

Industry leaders are looking into ways to prevent unfair trade, including naming China a currency manipulator and passing laws like the Enforcing Orders and Reducing Circumvention and Evasion (Enforce) Act. The bill—which was advanced by the Senate Finance Committee in July but will have to be reintroduced in the new Congress—aims to strengthen U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s enforcement of anti-dumping and countervailing duty orders, as well as bolster procedures for investigating allegations of duty evasion.

The American Iron and Steel Institute, Nucor, U.S. Steel and other large steel companies and interests lobbied in favor of the Enforce Act last year, but although the bill had broad bipartisan support it was difficult to push through because of deadlock on Capitol Hill, sources said.

"We were trying to get (the Enforce Act) attached to a number of different bills before the end of the Congress last year," AISI president Thomas Gibson told AMM. "That’s why it failed—we ran out of time. (Congress was) preoccupied with bigger issues and we couldn’t find a bill to attach it to."

Gibson said that of the 149 trade complaints filed with U.S. Customs and Border Protection in 2012, action was taken on 15 of them and no violations were found in 11—leaving 123 of the complaints still working their way through the agency.

"It’s very difficult for me to understand why (the Enforce Act) hasn’t passed. It’s just a measure of some of the other interests that are very powerful in this town," Steel Manufacturers Association president Thomas Danjczek told AMM.

The threat of financial implosion has dominated Washington’s agenda, hurting industries’ trade interests, sources said.

The federal debt ceiling was raised just hours before a government default in August 2011, and the House voted Jan. 23 to further extend the debt limit until May, setting the stage for yet another battle in just a few months.

"One’s ambition (on Capitol Hill) is thwarted by the elephant in the room," Danjczek said. "What we try to do is work with those policies that are going to do things that create jobs and stimulate the economy, and work with things that are going to mitigate storm clouds."

Despite unease over fiscal issues, discussions over currency manipulation and trade law enforcement will undoubtedly arise over the next year.

"We are very strong advocates for enforcing the rules of free trade," the steel industry source said. "I think American workers know there’s something wrong going on here. ... American workers might not be able to explain it to you, but they know that they’re getting the shaft."

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