U.S. Considers Ending Some Steel Tariffs

The U.S. government's International Trade Commission holds a hearing Tuesday on whether to end tariffs on some types of imported steel. Domestic steel makers want the tariffs continued. Free-trade advocates and some of the industry's largest customers say the tariffs no longer are needed.

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The U.S. government's International Trade Commission holds a hearing today on whether to end tariffs on some types of imported steel. Domestic steelmakers want the tariffs to be continued. Free trade advocates and some of the industry's largest customers say the tariffs are no longer needed.

NPR's Jack Speer reports.

JACK SPEER: When tariffs on foreign steel were put in place more than a dozen years ago, the U.S. steel industry was in serious trouble. With imports surging, U.S. companies were closing plants and eliminating jobs.

If you go by ads like this one, from the industry's main lobbying arm, little has changed since then.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

Unidentified Man: Demand answers from the candidates. Ask them how they plan to stem the loss of American jobs and enforce the trade laws.

SPEER: But while a major restructuring has since boosted profits, domestic steelmakers want the ITC to leave the tariffs on imported steel in place. Daniel DiMicco is chairman and CEO of Nucor Steel. He says one big reason to continue the tariffs is the huge increase of steel production in China.

Mr. DAN DIMICCO (Chairman and CEO, Nucor Steel): Eighty thousand tons a month we've got of galvanized coming in from China. A year ago, there was maybe 5,000 tons a month. We need to deal with the issue and this is the first step that we have in front of us to make sure that we're proactive and deal with this issue.

SPEER: But critics say the threat posed by foreign steel producers is overblown. They say U.S. companies produce the bulk of galvanized steel sold in the U.S. The auto industry is the biggest user of galvanized steel. Automakers say they want the tariffs lifted, arguing they artificially inflate prices by 30 percent or more.

Mark Fields is President of Ford, North America.

Mr. MARK FIELDS (President of Ford, North America): We buy the majority of our steel here. But at the same time, it's distorting the market dynamics. And just as in the car industry, we have very little tariffs here in the U.S. and a fairly open market. We would like to make sure that our suppliers go by the same rules.

SPEER: The International Trade Commission will vote on whether to continue the tariffs sometime in December.

Jack Speer, NPR News, Washington.

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