NEW YORK The domestic
steel wire industry has been hemorrhaging money for years due
to imports, but the losses are difficult to quantify because
there is no reliable way to track many imported products that
contain steel wire, according to Johnstown Wire Technologies
Inc. president Walt Robertson.
U.S. steel wire and wire rod
production has declined because downstream products made of
steel wiresuch as barbecue grills, fans and
toastersare increasingly manufactured overseas,
particularly in China, Robertson said. But the extent of those
imports cant accurately be measured.
Its a complaint that many
in the steel wire industry have expressed to AMM, with
executives at a range of major U.S. wire fabricators saying
that they have seen their customer bases fold under pressure
from Chinese products.
"Why is our industry seemingly
under such pressure? Whats wrong with this picture?"
Robertson asked. "Theres a whole piece of this that has
just taken the bloom off the rose, and taken so much volume
away from the rod mills and the downstream wire producers.
Their businesses are just a shadow of what they used to
Products with steel wire that
are manufactured overseas and shipped to the United
Statesa fan with a steel wire grill, for
examplecontain wire that has been drawn overseas, and
that wire has been drawn from wire rod that also has been
produced overseas, Robertson said. The result is that
businesses at every point on the supply chain is hurt when a
finished product is imported.
Robertson said that his own
business has felt the squeeze from imported products. The
Johnstown, Pa.-based company "used to make thousands of tons a
month of wool wire," he said. "We sold to people in the United
States that made steel fibers. That market was 40,000 tons a
year. Today, we produce a small fraction of that. ... We have
lost the business specifically to imported steel fibers from
China. We used to do 150,000 tons (of total wire a year).
Were doing 120,000 tons now."
Several other sources who asked
not to be named confirmed that production has been declining
over the past few years due to imports.
"(We had an)
upwards-of-35,000-ton wire mill that is now not being consumed
(in the United States) because the wire grill, as well as the
wire grate, is now produced in China," a source at a southern
wire drawer said, adding that he had seen facilities close
because of imports.
The wire industry has not found
a way to track the wire content of imported manufactured
products, so its nearly impossible to judge exactly how
much business is being lost. In order to get accurate figures,
it would be necessary to calculate the total amount of wire
used in every imported finished product as a portion of its
total weighta gargantuan task considering the number of
products which use wire.
"When you look at the total
industry in the United States, the fan grills arent
coming as fan grills; theyre coming as fans," John Martin
III, chief executive officer of McBee, S.C.-based wire drawer
Mar-Mac Wire Inc., said. "Ovens are being imported and the oven
racks are no longer made here. Thats not in the rod
statistics because theyre coming in as appliances.
Thered have to be a complex calculation and extensive
data if youre trying to hold on to whats
Robertson has gathered some data
in an attempt to measure what the industry has lost. According
to data he compiled from the American Iron and Steel Institute
and U.S. rod mills, 10.5 million tons of steel wire, wire rod
and wire products were consumed in the United States in 2012,
down from 12.7 million tons in 2000. Robertson believes that
the missing tons can be traced to imported downstream products
that incorporate steel wire.
"Either the United States is
consuming less of all these thingsmarkedly less of all
the stuff thats made of rod and wireor somehow we
cant capture (the data of) whats being consumed,"
Robertson said. "Looking at how robust the market was and
looking at it today, my heart goes out to these guys. Im
not sure what to do."