Steel leader praises Trump call for China trade probe

President Trump shows off the signed executive memorandum on the investigation of steel imports on Thursday.

John Brett, president and CEO of ArcelorMittal USA, is among the U.S.-based steel-industry executives who went to the White House today to cheer President Trump's call for what Brett called "a national security investigation" by the government "to determine whether steel imports threaten our national security." Statement here.

"The global steel market is in crisis because of China’s excess steel capacity, and we welcome the Administration’s efforts to aggressively address this problem,” Brett said in his statement.

ArcelorMittal, controlled by India-born, U.K.-based billionaire Lakshmi N. Mittal, employs 770 at the former Lukens Steel plant in Coatesville and 287 at the former Alan Wood Steel plant in Conshohocken, among its other U.S. plants.

The two suburban Philadelphia plants make plate steel for the U.S. military. 

According to the Commerce Department, Trump "signed a presidential memorandum calling on Secretary Wilbur Ross to prioritize a Department of Commerce investigation initiated last night into the effects of steel imports on U.S. national security.

"The study will consider production and capacity, workforce, investment, research and development, and other factors, to determine whether steel imports threaten American security."

If Ross finds "national security threats from steel imports," Trump ordered him to "provide a report that includes recommendations for next steps." Under Section 232 of the federal Trade Expansion Act, any President "has broad power to adjust imports — including through the use of tariffs and quotas — if excessive foreign imports are found to be a threat to U.S. national security."

The U.S. at present doesn't impose tariffs on foreign steel, but has imposed special "antidumping" or retaliatory duties in 152 past cases, according to the Commerce Department. Another 25 cases are pending. 

"Steel is used for critical infrastructure throughout the United States," Commerce concluded in its statement. "A robust and healthy domestic steel production industry is necessary for national security.  The U.S. steel industry has struggled in recent years ... Industry employment has been declining, companies are highly leveraged ...  Imports now represent 26% of the market and the U.S. steel mills and foundries are operating at just 71% of capacity."

Besides supplying war materials for use in expensive military gear "from nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers to missiles and tanks,” ArcelorMittal's U.S. plants also supply pipe and bridge steel "critical to our economic and national security," according to Brett.

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