Barack Obama Announces Increased Steel Trade Enforcement

26 February 2016

President Barack Obama’s administration on Thursday announced a series of executive actions aimed at protecting the domestic steel and iron ore industries from unfair foreign competition, including increased inspections at U.S. ports and increased Customs personnel to help enforce tariffs already in place.

The president also signed legislation Wednesday, HR 644, that provides additional tools to more aggressively enforce so-called anti-dumping regulations already in place.

The new bill, the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act, will empower U.S. Customs and Border Protection to initiate steel dumping investigations when foreign steelmakers are suspected, but not yet proven, of evading anti-dumping and countervailing tariffs. It’s also aimed at speeding investigations up.

The measures all are aimed at keeping what critics call below-cost steel from China and other nations from undercutting domestic steel sales in the U.S.

A flood of cheap steel imports has drastically cut into demand for American-made steel, forcing several mills to close and others to scale back. The steel decline has hit hard the Minnesota taconite iron ore industry that supplies the main ingredient for domestic steel.

The situation worsened in 2014 and 2015, leading to seven of Minnesota’s 11 largest mining operations to close, with more than 2,000 people currently laid off.

Minnesota lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton in December called White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough to the Iron Range and asked him to report back to Obama and take action against steel dumping. This week’s package of measures is the first major response to that effort.

“I thank the President for signing this important legislation and for his additional initiatives to stop the dumping of foreign steel on U.S. markets,” Dayton said in a statement released Thursday. “These steps are urgently needed to prevent further damage to the lives and livelihoods of the great people on the Iron Range.”

U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken as well as Iron Range U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan also have been urging the White House to take action. The Minnesota Democrats said Thursday’s efforts should help bring U.S. iron and steel jobs back. They also are backing additional legislation to add more trade enforcement and extend federal benefits for workers displaced by foreign trade.

“These new inspectors are significant. … It’s putting 38 new people on the job in the ports fighting (steel) dumping,” Klobuchar said in an interview Thursday. “They’ll be boarding ships and, if needed, turn them around. We need to show these foreign companies and countries that we mean business.”

Klobuchar said that while the president’s actions will have an immediate impact “we won’t consider this won until all the workers are back to work” on the Iron Range.

“I’m pleased that the Administration is starting to respond, but we need to more and continue taking necessary measures to get the Iron Range back on its feet,” Franken said in a statement.

“Significantly bolstering the staff responsible for enforcement and strengthening countervailing and antidumping duty laws will help ensure the timely implementation of tough tariffs on hot-rolled, cold-rolled and corrosion-resistant steel products,” Nolan said, noting manufacturers of those products are some of the largest users of Minnesota iron ore.


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