Lots of Talk, Little Consensus About Overcapacity

By Matthew McMullan
Apr 19 2016 |
Steelworkers attend an Ohio rally against dumped imports in 2014.

China shrugs at huge steel glut, says it’s not to blame.

Concern is growing over the world’s big glut of steel. So much so that there was a big debate over it at a meeting of trade officials and government ministers in Belgium on Monday. Thirty countries were represented, including the US of A.

They came to a conclusion: Steel overcapacity has to be dealt with swiftly.

What they didn’t agree on: How to do that.

The United States and European countries say the problem has largely been caused by China, which makes half of the world’s steel and last year exported more than the United States is capable of making annually. Exports of Chinese steel last month were actually up 30 percent from where they were a year ago.

China, meanwhile says it’s already cut plenty of capacity. “China has already done more than enough,” said a Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman. “What more do you want us to do?”

The American steel industry and the United Steelworkers union are pretty skeptical that the volume of imported Chinese steel, which is being sold in the United States for an artificially low price, will slow down unless Washington steps in to enforce existing trade laws.

After the talks in Belgium went nowhere, Washington – specifically, U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman – said if China doesn’t do something about this, it can’t expect America to act in defense of its beleaguered industry.

That’s good. Said Leo Gerard of the Steelworkers:

The time for talk has ended. Action is needed. Too many lives and livelihoods are at stake as well as the national security of the United States.