December 2, 2003
Locals don’t want steel tariffs taken away
By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley Washington correspondent
WASHINGTON — Area lawmakers and steel industry officials reacted with anger and concern Monday to reports that President Bush has decided to end domestic steel tariffs in the face of threatened retaliation against U.S. exports.
Rep. Bob Ney, R-St. Clairsville, was incensed to read in a newspaper that Bush has made the decision, rather than hearing it from the White House.
“To learn about a decision of this magnitude from a story in The Washington Post is not only disappointing, but it is insulting,” he said.
Ney added he was “very disappointed that this administration, which has exhibited such great courage in the past by standing up to international pressure, has instead chosen to back down in the face of threats by the World Trade Organization.”
The White House continued to insist that no decision has been made on whether to end or scale back the tariffs before they are set to end in March 2005.
Yet there was a growing sense that the tariffs soon may be history.
Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, said it appears Bush will end the tariffs.
“Usually, a rumor like this precedes the actual lifting,” he said. “I suspect that may be what’s going to happen.”
Opponents of the tariffs have anticipated their demise for several weeks.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that the decision is about to be announced on lifting the steel tariffs,” said Calman J. Cohen, president of the Emergency Committee for American Trade. “It’s a way to help ensure ... that more jobs are not jeopardized through retaliation.”
Ending the tariffs also would allow the United States to re-establish itself as a leader of free trade, he said.
Bush imposed the tariffs in March 2002 to give ailing domestic steel companies a chance to restructure and get back on their feet without fear of a surge of cheap imports. The duties raised the cost of foreign steel and made it less competitive with U.S.-produced steel.
Last month, the World Trade Organization ruled that the tariffs violate international trade law, which the United States is bound to obey as a member of the WTO.
Since then, the European Union, Japan and other nations have threatened to slap retaliatory tariffs on billions of dollars’ worth of American exports unless the tariffs are removed.
Ney and Regula have supported keeping the tariffs in place for a full three years, as have other area lawmakers.
Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Lorain, said repealing the tariffs would be “another blow to President Bush’s economic policy. He is already on his way to becoming the first president since Herbert Hoover to have a net job loss under his watch.”
Reps. Tim Ryan, D-Warren, and Ted Strickland, D-Lucasville, also support the tariffs, as do Republican Sens. George Voinovich and Mike DeWine.
During a conference call Monday, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard warned that ending the duties could hurt Bush’s chances for re-election in battleground states.
“Caving in to the blackmail of the European Economic Community is not going to float well in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, in Illinois and the other industrial states,” he said.
Regula, however, believes the issue could be a wash in Ohio, where companies that use steel and oppose the tariffs outnumber steel makers.
“It’s probably not a major factor, given the fact that steelworkers are supportive of Democratic candidates to start with,” he said.
Defenders of the tariffs accused the European Union of being hypocritical, since it has its own safeguard duties in place.
“I think we’re yielding to European threats of retaliatory action, but I don’t think they have clean hands,” Regula said of European governments.
As an alternative to ending the tariffs, “I wish what they’d do is just maybe reduce them without taking them off completely,” Regula said.
Steel industry officials on Monday denied reports that they have tried to negotiate a compromise of reduced tariffs with the administration.
“I’ve had no discussions with anybody in the administration,” said Thomas Usher, chairman of U.S. Steel. He said he planned to ask Bush about the tariffs Tuesday when he co-hosts a fund-raiser for the president in Pittsburgh.
Nucor Chief Executive Officer Dan DiMicco also denied that he has sought a compromise with the administration.
Despite his disappointment at the apparent plans to end the tariffs, Ney credited Bush for doing more than other recent administrations to protect the steel industry.