New report warns of threats to U.S. steel jobs

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More than 500,000 U.S. jobs, including about 35,000 in Pennsylvania, are threatened by a surge in unfair steel imports, according to a report Tuesday from the Economic Policy Institute and a Washington law firm.

Steel imports rose 13 percent from 2011 to 2013 and increased nearly 25 percent in the first two months of this year, according to the report.

It said that 583,600 jobs in the steel and related industries are at risk if the United States does not effectively enforce trade laws. Nearly 4,200 workers in eight states, including about 250 in Pennsylvania, have lost their jobs since the beginning of 2012 because of the wave of imports, the report said.

The warning comes as U.S. steel producers await final word on the outcome of a trade complaint filed last year against nine countries alleging they sold tubular steel in the United States for less than in their home countries or below their costs of production.

Domestic steel makers say foreign competitors can do that because many benefit from government subsidies. According to the new report, half of the world’s 46 biggest steel companies are government owned and they account for nearly 40 percent of global production.

Cheap imports have resulted in net losses for the steel industry in four of the last five years, said Robert Scott, director of trade and manufacturing policy research for the Economic Policy Institute and co-author of the report. The other authors are attorneys for Stewart and Stewart, a Washington, D.C., law firm whose specialties include trade issues.

“Our producers are increasingly losing business to companies that don’t play by the rules,” U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said during a conference call Tuesday discussing the report.

Mr. Brown said South Korea, one of the producers named in the complaint filed with the U.S. International Trade Commission in July, is one of the biggest offenders. It exports all of its so-called oil country tubular goods — steel tubes used by the energy industry — because it does not have a domestic market for the product, he said.

The report found U.S. imports of tubular goods more than doubled between 2010 and 2012. That happened while U.S. steelmakers ran their mills at reduced levels and overseas producers ran full tilt, creating a worldwide glut of steel. The United States is the natural target for the excess metal because of how large it is and how open it is to imports.

“They see us as a big, fat market that they can exploit when they’ve got trouble,” said U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who joined Mr. Brown and others on the call.

Texas, where U.S. Steel has major operations targeting the energy market, is the state with the most jobs at risk — nearly 60,000, according to the report. California comes next with 52,300, followed by Pennsylvania with 35,300 and Ohio with 33,900.


Len Boselovic: 412-263-1941 or lboselovic@post-gazette.com

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