Keeping steel strong: The fight against illegal dumping must continue

The president and CEO of U.S. Steel, David Burritt, said he believes that President Donald Trump will take strong, decisive action against foreign steel dumping. We hope he is right. A crackdown – long past due – not only would help American steelmakers’ bottom lines but shore up national security.

During the Cold War, the federal government was so concerned about America’s steel-making capacity that it stockpiled the raw materials needed for production. Now, communities nationwide are struggling with pollution caused by those sites.

The geopolitical considerations are different today, but steel-related national security concerns remain. Worse, they remain unaddressed. U.S. steelmakers struggle to compete against foreign producers that sell at below-market rates, partly because of subsidies from their governments. The unfair competition comes from adversaries, such as China, but also from allies, including Japan, Turkey and South Korea.

This is not about petty protectionism. If steelmakers can’t compete, they shut down, and America loses capacity. Or, with revenue down, the companies put off capital projects needed to remain modern, undercutting their competitiveness in another way. Once capacity is lost or diminished, it can’t be ramped up again in a hurry.

There’s an economic effect that goes well beyond job losses. Amid financial problems partly associated with steel dumping, U.S. Steel pulled out of plans to build a new headquarters in Pittsburgh, delaying the entire redevelopment project.

In June, the bipartisan Congressional Steel Caucus, chaired by Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., sent Trump a letter urging steps that “would apply broadly to the full spectrum of steel products, avoid exceptions that could be exploited by dumping or circumvention by foreign producers, and be sustained for a significant period of time to ensure the industry’s vitality.” In particular, the congressmen expressed concern about preserving capacity for the military, electrical grid and energy development.

The Commerce Department has held hearings on the impact of steel dumping, and Trump already has cited a 1962 law allowing him to impose tariffs and take other steps outside the usual process for resolving trade disputes. During an interview last week with The Wall Street Journal, Trump, who campaigned on a pledge to level the trading play field, assailed steel dumping but said action might have to wait “till we get everything finished up between health care and taxes and maybe even infrastructure.”

During a call with analysts in the same week, Burritt outlined $1.2 billion in capital improvements his company is making to stay in the game, and he said he believes a strong response on dumping from federal officials – “we do believe they’re going to go broad and they’re going to go deep” – is forthcoming. Well and good, but the response should come sooner rather than later. During the Cold War, the government went to great lengths to ensure the steel industry’s viability. It’s no less important now.