INDIANAPOLIS Domestic steelmakers are under an import "assault" and more needs to be done to get the attention of policymakers suffering "fatigue" on trade issues, according to steel industry leaders.
Exacerbating the problem is global steel overcapacity, particularly from China, which is putting pressure on both prices and profits, executives from domestic producers said at a town hall forum at the Association for Iron and Steel Technologys annual AISTech conference in Indianapolis.
Charlotte, N.C.-based Nucor Corp. is now far more politically engaged on trade than in the past but faces "a bit of fatigue" in Washington on the issue, according to John Farris, vice president and general manager of Nucor Steel Texas.
Thats in part because the industry has been talking about trade issues for more than 14 years and during that time has adapted to survive despite import pressure, he said. But just because the industry isnt dying doesnt mean "were crying wolf."
The solution: "Weve got to be louder, and there have to be more of us talking and engaging," Farris said. "If you are not personally involved and youre company is not personally engaged politically, you need to get your (behind) to work because we are being assaulted."
The U.S. steel industry is running at only 77 percent of production capacity despite having the lowest-cost and most efficient production in the world, Farris said. "It doesnt make sense that companies in other countries can buy scrap in this country, produce it into steel, ship it back and sell it back below our cost to produce," he said.
Michael Rippey, president and chief executive officer of Chicago-based ArcelorMittal USA LLC, agreed that the steel industry needs to be more vocal on "unfair trade," especially at the grassroots level. "What matters in Washington ultimately is votes," he said. "I have one vote, and were talking about a million votesso we have to be sure that all of the constituencies are educated."
Its also important to stress that the steel industry is not looking for a "handout," he said. "Were not asking for a subsidy. Were asking for a fair and level playing field, and well win on a fair and level playing field every day all day."
U.S. Steel Corp. is aiming to win over legislators outside of the Steel Caucus and Rust Belt policymakers who already understand trade issues, according to Douglas R. Matthews, senior vice president of the Pittsburgh-based companys North American flat-rolled operations.
"You get a bunch of steel people ... its like an echo chamber. They get it. They understand it," he said. "Its reaching out into locations that dont really understand the impact their community might have by not having a robust manufacturing sector."
Tracy L. Porter, president of Irving, Texas-based Commercial Metals Co.s (CMCs) Americas division, also dismissed the notion that preliminary anti-dumping duties imposed by the Commerce Departments International Trade Administration (ITA) on rebar shipments from Mexico might run afoul of the North American Free Trade Agreement (amm.com, April 23).
"Nafta specifically addresses trade issues, and we are within our full rights and responsibilities to the industry to prosecute this case," he told AMM on the sidelines of the event, noting that Nafta partners have frequently brought trade petitions against each other.
"Its an agreement, but its not an entitlement to violate the law," and the Commerce Department wouldnt have taken the case if it did, Porter said. The notion that a rebar trade petition could harm Nafta is "far-fetched" and "moves into the realms of emotional-based arguments and not fact-based (ones)," he said.