Canton Repository

September 24, 2003

Union certain steel tariffs will continue

Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON — A recent report on the effect of steel tariffs has buoyed the hopes of advocates lobbying President Bush to extend them for another 18 months.

But the high-stakes issue clearly remains in doubt.

The United Steelworkers union expressed confidence Tuesday that Bush will continue protective tariffs on steel, despite reports of opposition from the president’s economic team.

“These things are going to be evaluated by the entire administration, so I’m not worried,” said William Klinefelter, the union’s top lobbyist.

Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Lucasville, offered a less optimistic appraisal.

Appearing at a union rally with Klinefelter, the congressman said while he is hopeful, “I don’t know for sure” whether Bush will extend the tariffs.

Responding to complaints that the U.S. steel industry had lost 50,000 jobs since a surge in imports in 1997, Bush slapped the temporary duties on imported steel in March 2002. They were designed to give domestic steel makers relief from foreign competition so they could restructure and become more competitive.

In keeping with a stipulation in trade law, the president now must decide whether to end the “safeguard” tariffs early or extend them for a full three years.

The higher prices brought about by the fees on foreign steel have benefited steel producers. But they have infuriated steel-using manufacturers who say the higher cost of raw materials have cost them jobs.

In a midterm report sent Friday to the White House, the U.S. International Trade Commission said while the tariffs have helped the steel industry, they have hurt steel-using companies and slightly hurt the overall economy.

On Tuesday, steelworkers deployed wheelbarrows to take a dozen boxes of petitions containing more than 100,000 signatures in favor of continuing the tariffs to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

More than 19,000 of the signatures were from steelworkers in Ohio, union spokesman Gary Hubbard said. Another 25,000 were from Indiana and Illinois.

Accepting the petitions, a top administration official was noncommittal about extending the duties.

“There is still going to have to be more analysis before we go back to the president for a decision,” said Grant Aldonas, undersecretary of commerce for international trade.

Aldonas reacted to recent reports suggesting that Commerce Secretary Donald Evans opposes continuing the tariffs.

“That’s certainly not something he (Evans) said to me,” Aldonas remarked. “What he said to me is we have to take a hard look at the study” by the trade commission.

Aldonas praised the tariffs for fostering a healthier steel industry. But the administration, he added, must decide whether they have accomplished enough to be ended. Another consideration, he said, is what “further pressure” their extension would put on steel-using companies.

Klinefelter said he was “very confident” Bush will extend the tariffs, which have given the steel industry “an opportunity to get back on its feet.”

Strickland worried that the president might look for a compromise, such as continuing the tariffs but removing a product such as tin plate from the list of steel subject to duties.

“That would have disastrous consequences for Weirton Steel” a W.Va.-based producer of tin plate and other steel products, he said.