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Steel needs faster, firmer trade policy: execs

Keywords: Tags  AIST, steel, imports, exports, Michael Rehwinkel, Evraz NA, Andrew Harshaw, ArcelorMittal Anand Sen

PITTSBURGH — Fundamental problems with U.S. trade policy—particularly when it comes to defining "injury"—are resulting in an uneven playing field in the battle against imports, steelmakers said during the Association for Iron and Steel Technology’s AISTech 2013 conference in Pittsburgh.

"There has been little to no action in Washington as to what to do with the abundance of pipe coming into this country. Our laws are set so that it’s such a long period of time to prove harm. Once you prove harm, it might be two years based on the way U.S. laws work," said Michael Rehwinkel, chief executive officer of Chicago-based Evraz Inc. North America.

"Try to tell a steelmaker that’s unemployed that he’s not harmed right now. We need to have a very personalized conversation about this," Rehwinkel said.

Steelmakers have long argued that existing trade laws are causing an unfair disadvantage for domestic producers because filing trade cases under the current system is costly and often ineffective. Additionally, the time needed to prove injury and the long waiting periods in between are hampering steel producers’ ability to compete fairly, they said.

"You can’t rely on everyone helping you. At the end of the day, you need to produce a competitive product. Our trade laws are out of step with today’s reality," said Andrew Harshaw, executive vice president of operations at ArcelorMittal USA LLC. "When we had a seven-year business cycle peak to peak, maybe you can wait the two years (to see the results of a trade action). But when your business cycle is seven months ... this is a serious issue for our industry. You’re not going to invest capital when you don’t get a solid return on it."

However, Anand Sen, vice president of India-based Tata Steel Ltd., was quick to point out that not all imports are negative.

"I would urge the North American steel industry not to paint all imports with the same brush. There are some (imports) that necessarily are unfair imports. But the industry needs to wake up to the fact that there are other people who are able to do it (make steel) better," he said.

Sen also challenged the U.S. steel industry to think more globally.

"Why doesn’t the U.S. think of exporting? If your capacity utilization is low ... why not forgo certain profit and transaction levels and export? The industry will probably be better off, too," he added.

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