Steel and security


CLEVELAND — Cliffs Natural Resources officials have voiced support for a directive from President Donald Trump Thursday to expedite a just-launched investigation into whether steel imports are jeopardizing U.S. national security.

Trump signed a memo, with the support of executives from U.S. steelmaking companies, directing Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to return recommendations in the “very, very near” future. Trump said that could be as soon as 30 to 50 days, according to an Associated Press article.

A 1962 trade law that gives the president authority to restrict imports and impose tariffs if they are determined to harm U.S. security interests outlines 270 days for such investigations.

Cliffs Chairman, President and CEO Lourenco Goncalves said his company applauds the Trump administration’s efforts to eliminate the presence of illegally traded steel in the U.S. marketplace.

“Cliffs continues to believe that illegal imports threaten the ability of the domestic steel industry to fulfill its role as an important part of the Defense system of the United States,” Goncalves said. “We also believe that section 232 (of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962) might provide the administration with more powerful instruments to address the, so far, unpunished behavior of the ones that play both sides of their mouths, and continue to insist on being the recipients, within the American territory, of illegally traded steel into our country.”

President Trump said maintaining steel production is critical to U.S. security interests because it is needed to build airplanes, ships and other machinery, along with roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

The American steel industry argues that if the U.S. is dependent on imported steel, it could be vulnerable if relations break down with nations that export it.

President of the United Steelworkers Union, Leo Gerard, who was present during the signing of the memo, told Trump the USW has been fighting unfair trade for 30 years, according to a transcript of Thursday’s presidential briefing.

“Hopefully, this executive order will give us the tools we need to grow our companies back and put people back to work. And I have lots of faith that Secretary Wilbur Ross will help make that happen,” Gerard said.

U.S. prominence in the industry has been slipping for decades.

American-made steel once accounted for roughly 20 percent of global production, but had slipped to less than 5 percent by 2015, according to the Belgium-based World Steel Association.

China made up less than 3 percent of U.S. steel imports.

In 2001, the Commerce Department found no evidence of a threat after it examined potential national security risks from importing semi-finished steel.

What has changed since 2001, is that China now accounts for half of steel production. Excess output by Chinese factories — regardless of imports to the United States — can dampen prices for U.S. steelmakers.

Goncalves said it is important to keep the U.S. from becoming reliant on imported steel.

“This is not an area where we can afford to become dependent on other countries,” Goncalves said.

Trump pledged to support the U.S. steel industry going forward.

“From now on, we’re going to stand up for American jobs, workers and their security, and for American steel companies and companies in general,” Trump said. “Today’s action is the next vital step toward making America strong and prosperous once again.”

Asked whether the move would affect his dealings with China over North Korea, Trump said: “This has nothing to do with China. This has to do with worldwide, what’s happening. The dumping problem is a worldwide problem.”

Trump promised as a candidate to revitalize the American steel industry, the decline of which has been especially hard on states like Pennsylvania that were crucial to his victory.