WASHINGTON Steel wire producers visited members of Congress last week as part of a concerted effort to push a law that would reform U.S. Customs and Border Protection and enforce U.S. trade laws.
The proposed legislation, supported by members of the American Wire Producers Association (AWPA), would establish accountability at Customs for responding to allegations that imported products are illegally evading anti-dumping and countervailing duties, and set a timeline for action on allegations.
Members of the AWPA reached out Sept. 19 to about 30 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate on Capitol Hill.
"Our primary aim on the Hill was to address this Enforce Act and asking for legislation that would encourage Customs and border protection to do their job to cover circumvention," AWPA president and McBee, S.C.-based Mar-Mac Wire Inc. chief executive officer John Martin III told AMM.
The trade legislation has been introduced in the Senate as part of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Reauthorization Act of 2013, a Customs reauthorization bill; and as the Enforcing Orders and Reducing Customs Evasion (Enforce) Act in the House Ways and Means Committee, which has 44 co-sponsors.
Customs received more than 100 allegations in 2012 from U.S. companies that imports are illegally entering the country without paying anti-dumping or countervailing duties, yet has successfully pursued only one allegation filed by a wire producer, Amy DeArmond, government policy and legal affairs strategist for Leggett & Platt Inc., Carthage, Mo., told AMM.
Customs and Border Protection in July established the Center of Excellence and Expertise (CEE) in Chicago, which was created to better track imports and respond to allegations by domestic companies.
CEE will streamline the filing process for goods entering the United States and increase dialogue between manufacturers who suspect goods are illegally evading anti-dumping or countervailing duties, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection deputy assistant director Africa Bell.
"We have been under a large effort to reorganize, restructure and repurpose a lot of the trade efforts. I know were making a very concerted effort to do that sort of outreach and say come and talk to us and make sure we have a dialogue here in Washington," Michael Walsh, director of Customs Office of International Trade, said at the AWPAs Government Affairs Conference.
But AWPA members and advisors said Customs hasnt been doing its job, that too many steel product imports enter the country illegally and that the agency hasnt adequately responded to complaints over the past five years.
"There is no other job in this country where you cannot do anything for five years and still be employed," DeArmond said.
"I hate to be overly critical because I dont (know) whats on their responsibility chart, but I would say weve been disappointed with their responses to allegations. Were looking for something that establishes accountability and a timeline for responding to our complaints," Timothy Selhorst, president and chief executive officer of Bedford Heights, Ohio-based American Spring Wire Inc., said.
Martin met South Carolina Republican Reps. Mick Mulvaney and Tom Rice and said that both were receptive to his comments.
Selhorst and DeArmond said they made a strong case for requiring accountability at Customs in their meeting with Rep. Charles Boustany (R., La.), who had previously introduced legislation in the House Ways and Means Committee that favored less robust measures to combat duty evasion.
"Its not like the AWPA is a group of protectionist, closed-border folks. But I think there need to be some checks and balances on the damaging trade that takes place from foreign countries, including China," Selhorst told AMM.
Martin said he has contemplated filing a trade case on tie wire and bar ties, but has been deterred because many trade laws arent enforced even if duties are successfully imposed.
Domestic wire producers said they hope to have legislation passed before year-end.