Industry and Labor Lay Out Priorities at a “State of Steel” Hearing

By Matthew McMullan
Jul 20 2022 |
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Keep tariffs strong, improve trade enforcement, and invest in American manufacturing, leaders urge lawmakers.

Representatives of domestic steel companies and workers on Wednesday urged lawmakers to maintain tariffs, improve trade enforcement tools, and back a competitive U.S. industrial policy to bolster manufacturing.

Steel executives and the leader of the nation’s largest industrial union used a Capitol Hill hearing of the Congressional Steel Caucus to discuss the state of the domestic steel sector and praised lawmakers in the caucus for advancing their shared policy priorities.

“Although our country and the world’s economy are being stressed in really significant ways, the fundamentals of the domestic steel industry are strong because of cooperation between industry, government and labor,” said United Steelworkers President Tom Conway. He cited the significant demand for iron and steel that last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will create in the coming years, as well as the inclusion of the “Build America, Buy America” provision that will — if enforced — make sure all federally funded infrastructure projects use U.S.-made metals. This will mean a better market that can support good American jobs.

But, Conway said, there’s plenty more to do. He and other witnesses, including U.S. Steel executive Richard Fruehauf, called on legislators to update on-the-books trade laws so that injured American steelmakers don’t have to play Whac-A-Mole at the U.S. International Trade Commission to stop unfairly traded imports from causing bankruptcies and layoffs. Conway specifically mentioned the Leveling the Playing Field Act 2.0, which would improve anti-dumping and countervailing duty laws, and is attached to the House’s version of the industrial policy bill currently before Congress.

The Leveling the Playing Field Act. 2.0 is a very good idea, and you can send a letter to your lawmaker telling them so by clicking here. Or, better yet, you can call them.

“It’s a global game that’s constantly moving,” said Fruehauf, pointing to examples of circumvention by Chinese steel manufacturers. “Our administrative agencies need tools, and they need to be constantly looking at new ways of enforcement, sharing of information from agencies and from industry.”

Other witnesses spoke about the importance of maintaining tariffs that have allowed a once down-and-out steel industry to rebound in recent years, making large capital investments and expanding its workforce. But Lourenco Goncalves, CEO of steelmaker Cleveland-Cliffs Inc., in his own testimony focused on how consensus thinking about American manufacturing’s importance is finally shifting because of global events. It’s creating a huge opportunity to establish supply chains for emerging industries, he argued.  

“In the wake of the hard lessons learned in the last two years a number of companies are finally considering making investments in domestic manufacturing facilities and growing good-paying US jobs,” said Goncalves. “As the American vehicle fleet electrifies, we have a unique opportunity to build the entire (electric vehicle) supply chain in the United States. Cleveland-Cliffs, as the largest supplier of automotive steel in North America, is on the cutting edge of developing and supplying the steel products for this electrification, such as advanced high-strength steels for battery enclosures, and grain oriented electric steels for electric motors.”

But it’s not just gonna happen on its own, Goncalves warned. That’s why passing industrial policy is so critical.

“For the electrification to succeed however we have urgent need to reshore production of microchips and many other manufacturing components,” he said. “I implore Congress to pass the CHIPS Act now. That’s a good start.”

You can read more about what the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) thinks of the CHIPS Act and other industrial policy proposals here. (Hint: It’s good, as long as it prioritizes domestic semiconductor manufacturing.)

Full disclosure: Many of the companies represented today and the United Steelworkers union are AAM members. And if you’d like to know where they and the rest of the domestic steel sector stands on lots of trade and investment issues being debated in Washington, look no further – because here they are on YouTube, at today’s steel caucus hearing, layin’ it all out: