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Future bright despite challenges: steel execs

Keywords: Tags  steel, steel outlook, AISI, American Iron and Steel Institute, Michael Rehwinkel, Evraz NA, Metals Service Center Institute, Charles Schmitt SSAB Americas

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Enforcing U.S. trade policy and capitalizing on low-priced natural gas will help U.S. steelmakers while offering broad economic benefits, including job creation and manufacturing growth, a number of steel executives said at an industry conference May 16.

"We’re nearly halfway through 2013, and though the economy is recovering at a moderate pace, there are still some challenges out there," Michael T. Rehwinkel, newly elected chairman of the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) and president and chief executive officer of Chicago-based Evraz Inc. North America, said.

Rehwinkel identified those challenges as a possible tax increase, high unemployment rates and slowing growth in the manufacturing sector. "We need to urge the U.S. government to be more proactive in regards to the unfair trade that would cause harm to our recovery," he said.

Speaking at the AISI’s 121st general meeting, co-hosted by the Metals Service Center Institute, steel executives on Washington-based AISI’s board pointed out that the natural gas phenomenon will continue to be a bright spot for the United States.

"Our industry’s international competitiveness depends on our ability to capitalize on shale resources. As an industry, we consume large amounts of natural gas and benefit from the increased supply," Charles W. Schmitt, vice chairman of AISI and president of Lisle, Ill.-based SSAB Americas, said.

However, one challenge lies in the number of recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations that have hurt, rather than helped, steelmakers.

The enforcement of trade laws also remains an issue. Only by maintaining a strong trade policy and removing foreign trade barriers can U.S. steelmakers compete fairly against their global counterparts, Schmitt added.

"The current surge in steel imports puts our ability to reap the benefits of our job-creating investments at risk," according to John J. Ferriola, a director at AISI, and president and chief executive officer of Charlotte, N.C.-based Nucor Corp.

Countries such as China, Egypt, Brazil and India, as well as state-owned enterprises, have imposed trade restrictions on a number of imported and exported products, Ferriola said, noting that those restrictions distort trade in raw materials and in finished products.

"While America is a free market, many major steel-producing countries are not," he said. "The fact is that U.S. steelmakers can successfully compete with anyone in the world on a level playing field. But we can’t compete against governments."

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