Steel Industry to Commerce Department: Overcapacity is a Security Concern

By Matthew McMullan
May 25 2017 |
A real barn burner down at the Commerce Department, as industry executives offer testimony on the Trump administration’s Section 232 steel investigation.

Executives urge Trump administration to push ahead with investigation.

A few weeks ago, President Donald Trump announced a special investigation into the impact of steel imports on U.S. national security.

Do you remember? It’s referred to as a Section 232 case – after the section of American trade law to which it pertains – and it allows the Commerce Secretary the ability to investigate and determine whether high levels of certain imports rise to a security threat.

There’s no doubt the steel industry is facing tough times. The international market is basically awash in steel, and some countries keep on cranking it out – while gearing up to make even more. But does it rise to the standard of a Section 232? Does it really put the country's national security at risk? And if so, how?

Well, during the public hearings held on Wednesday by the Commerce Department on this subject, a line of industry advocates lined up to answer those questions. Many pointed to specific examples of the steel industry's integration into U.S. military procurement.

There was John Ferriola, president and CEO of Nucor Corporation, who noted his firm was one of only two in the United States certified to supply steel plate for aircraft carriers and destroyers – but, pinched by import competition and operating at only 70 percent capacity, was feeling increasingly hesitant to invest in production expansion.

There was David Rintoul, president of the tubular products division at U.S. Steel, who pointed out that when it comes oil country tubular goods (OCTG) – the pipe needed for energy exploration – A) imports account for half the domestic market, B) the majority come from China and South Korea, and C) neither of those countries have no market (because they don’t drill for oil).

There was Roger Newport, the CEO of AK Steel. AK Steel is the sole domestic producer of grain-oriented electrical steel – used in the assembly of electrical transformers – and non-oriented electrical steel products – a key component in electric generators. Newport pointed out that it would be unwise to increase our reliance on steel imports when something as particular as our functioning electric grid was at stake.

And there was John Brett, CEO of ArcelorMittal USA, the largest domestic supplier for U.S. military armor plate, who backed the 232 investigation as well. But Brett told the panel of gathered Commerce Department officials this:

“Mr. Secretary, we appreciate the attention this administration has devoted to the state of the steel industry. It was my honor to stand in the Oval Office when the president announced this investigation. Nonetheless, the United states must address the problem of global excess steelmaking capacity, or every other action you or we take won’t matter.”

For what it’s worth, officials from the Ukrainian, Russian, and Chinese governments offered testimony, as well. Yu Gu, a Commerce Ministry official attached to China's Washington embassy, said:

“The (Chinese) Ministry of Commerce believes there is no evidence that steel imports threaten to impair U.S. national security."

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced he hopes to present the findings of his Section 232 investigation to President Trump by June. We’ll be dialed in to see the results.