When U.S. Steel Corp. announced its intention to idle the Granite City Works plant in December 2015, I was heartbroken for the workers and the community. I resolved to do what I could to help bring these jobs back and to fight against unfair trade practices that contributed to the idling of the plant. Fortunately, these efforts have begun to pay off, and 500 workers will be returning to work at the Granite City site to make steel again.
This week, I chaired the Congressional Steel Caucus’ annual “State of the Steel Industry” hearing. Steel is a hot topic these days and our discussion focused on recent actions taken by President Donald Trump’s administration to combat illegal foreign trade practices, the importance of domestic steel to our national security, and the outlook for the industry in the global marketplace. We received vitally important feedback from industry experts, including executives of leading steel companies from across the country, a retired Army brigadier general, and the union representing American steelworkers.
Since the president used a provision in federal trade law, known as “Section 232,” to impose tariffs on steel imports based on national security grounds, there’s been an ongoing national discussion about what it means for our economic future. First, the global market for steel has been corrupted by countries such as China that deliberately overproduce steel in order to gain market share at the expense of our steel companies and workers. These foreign companies are propped up and funded by their governments and do not operate by the same free market principles that apply to American steel producers.
While the fight against unfairly traded imports took a big step forward when my legislation was signed into law to strengthen anti-dumping and countervailing duty trade remedies, nations like China have worked to get around these tariffs by shipping steel through other countries. This is why China only directly accounts for less than 5 percent of steel imports to the United States. It’s essentially a money-laundering scheme for steel.
In addition, nations like South Korea have taken advantage of anti-dumping and countervailing duty orders by purchasing Chinese steel and fabricating it into different products, like materials used in oil as gas production that are also manufactured in Granite City. The scale of this overproduction and the harm it causes to American steel is staggering. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, global steel overcapacity exceeded 600 million tons — of which more than half is produced by China. Total imports of the products used in oil and gas production increased by 196 percent last year. Imports from South Korea increased by 236 percent despite the fact that the country does not have a single oil or gas well.
Clearly, the current state of global steel markets is anything but efficient and transparent. The amount of steel produced by non-free-market economies like China is many times greater than it was the last time action was taken to address the flood of imports back in 2002. Something had to be done.
I took my concerns directly to the president in a White House meeting last month. Those of us in attendance discussed a number of options to address China’s deliberate overproduction of steel. However, as I made clear in the meeting, many of these fixes would take time and involve the coordination of multiple federal government agencies and our allies abroad. This is time that America’s steel companies simply don’t have. The clock has been ticking for years.
This issue is a clear threat to national security. That’s why I have led efforts in Congress to urge the president to invoke Section 232 to stop the flood of foreign imports. Steel is a product necessary to strengthen infrastructure, the electric grid, energy production and military readiness.
As a result of the president’s decision, U.S. Steel is firing back up in Granite City. Its largest blast furnace is going to be brought back online and, over the next few months, 500 workers are going to be called back to the job. Hopefully, even more will follow.
For me, this fight has never been about politics or party. It’s about helping hardworking Southern Illinois families. It’s about jump-starting an industry that has been hit hard for years. As anyone in the Metro East region already knows, our workers can compete and beat anyone on the world stage when we’ve got an even playing field. If we get more news like what we’re hearing out of Granite City, then it’s going to be game on.
Republican Mike Bost serves as U.S. representative from the 12th Congressional District of Illinois. He is co-chair of the Bipartisan Congressional Steel Caucus.