Canton Repository

2-15-01

Voinovich joins call to bolster Ohio steel 

By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON — Sen. George Voinovich went to bat for the Ohio steel industry on Wednesday, urging President Bush to provide temporary relief to U.S. steel producers to help protect them from low-priced steel imports.

Voinovich asked the administration to file a petition with the U.S. International Trade Commission under a law that allows relief when an import threatens or causes serious injury to a U.S. industry.

The petition, filed under Section 201 of the trade law, would begin a process that could lead to higher tariffs or other restrictions on steel imports. The end result would be a reduction in the amount of foreign
steel purchased in the United States. Higher tariffs would make imported steel more expensive in relation to domestic steel, in turn raising production costs for steel-using industries like autos. Some portion of those higher costs could ultimately be passed on to the consumer.

If Bush files a petition with the commission, the trade body then would determine if relief is justified. Bush could then act on the commission’s recommendation and order relief.

Voinovich’s request for federal action comes after similar calls from Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, and Gov. Bob Taft.

Taft sent a letter to Bush on Feb. 8 asking him to investigate “recent surges in steel imports,” which he said are a “substantial cause of the serious injury that the industry has suffered over the past several months.”

Taft asked Bush to work with lawmakers to strengthen trade protections and negotiate a reduction in worldwide steel production.

The governor also asked Bush to strengthen a 1-year-old, federal steel loan guarantee program “so that Ohio’s steel companies can quickly access these vital funds.”

Only one steel company in Ohio, CSC Ltd., has applied for a federal loan. 

The application won approval last year, but the company filed for bankruptcy before taking the loan.

Taft has not received a response from the Bush administration to his requests, a spokesman for the governor said.

Late last week, Regula introduced a bill that would make it easier for the president to grant relief to domestic steel makers.

Voinovich is a “strong free trader” who is “very hesitant to step in and call for these types of measures when they’re not truly justified,” said Scott Milburn, the senator’s spokesman. But the senator is concerned about the health of the steel industry after three Ohio steel makers recently filed for
bankruptcy.

“His concern is that we have not enforced the (trade) law,” Milburn said. “This industry is being decimated.”

Voinovich communicated his request for temporary relief to Bush Wednesday when members of his staff met with the U.S. trade officials.

Voinovich himself met last week with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, the government’s top trade official.

In a subsequent letter to Zoellick , Voinovich wrote, “I was extremely heartened to hear that you are open to the idea of the administration initiating a Section 201 action under the Trade Act to help the U.S. steel
industry. I believe that such an action is critical to give the industry the breathing room it needs to reorganize, restructure and emerge capable of weathering future foreign import surges.”

Amy Stilwell, spokeswoman for Zoellick, was unable to determine before the end of the day if the office had any reaction to Voinovich’s request to Bush. Voinovich had not received any response from Bush, his staff said.