Canton Repository

May 16, 2001

Administration quiet on steel remedy 

By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley News Service 

WASHINGTON — While the administration says it is serious about the crisis facing the steel industry, it is still unclear when President Bush will act or what he will do, government and business officials said Tuesday.

“The industry is battling for its life,” said Duane R. Dunham, chairman of the American Iron and Steel Institute, which held its yearly meeting here this week. The institute represents more than 40 steel makers in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

During the past three years, 19 North American steel companies have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection or its equivalent, said Dunham, who also is chairman, president and chief executive officer of Pennsylvania-based Bethlehem Steel Corp.

The steel industry and lawmakers have urged the administration to launch a broad investigation of steel imports called a Section 201 probe. The U.S. International Trade Commission would conduct the probe, determine if imports were damaging U.S. steel makers and make recommendations to the president. Bush in turn could order temporary curbs on steel imports.

The halt would provide “breathing room” to recover from foreign competition, supporters of import limits say.

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio (Bethlehem Township), and Ohio Gov. Bob Taft are among those who have written to Bush asking for a probe. An investigation also is a top priority for the American Iron and Steel Institute. The Timken Co., a Canton-based maker of roller bearings and steel, also supports a 201.

In an appearance before the executives, Florizelle Liser, assistant U.S. trade representative, said the administration is looking into a Section 201 as well as other remedies and expects to make a decision soon.

“They’re aiming to make it soon but who’s to say exactly when that is,” she said.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and Commerce Secretary Donald Evans are among key officials who will make recommendations to the president on the steel crisis.

Zoellick is “looking at how to do that (investigate imports) without necessarily leaning too far in the direction of being protectionist. This is what he’s been examining,” Liser said.

The cabinet has met several times to discuss steel, but never, to Liser’s knowledge, while Bush was present, she said.

Administration officials also have held “numerous meetings with CEOs from various companies throughout the industry” to discuss an investigation, said Andrew G. Sharkey III, president and chief executive officer of the institute. “I think they’ve been working hard over the last couple of months to get up to speed on the steel issue. I think they recognize the severity of the problem and the urgency of it.”

Robert J. Lapp, vice president of government affairs for Timken, did not believe officials had consulted anyone from Timken about a probe. However, W.R. “Tim” Timken Jr., chairman and chief executive
officer of the company, was a key campaign contributor to Bush and has met with the president several times.

Many steel company executives blame “unfair” foreign competition for their industry’s pain, but some pointed out the strength of the U.S. dollar plays a role by making American steel more expensive abroad.

They said foreign countries subsidize steel, allowing companies to “dump” the product here at prices that are lower than what they sell it for in their own country or the cost of making it.

While the law allows others besides the president to initiate a probe, one ordered by the president has the best chance of success, steel executives said. Supporters of an investigation said if the president launched one, he most likely would order a reduction in imports as a result.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is laying the groundwork to launch an investigation from the Senate Finance Committee if Bush fails to initiate one.

Rockefeller said he’s confident he will have the support in the committee by the end of the month, but he too said an administration-ordered probe would be best.