Bye, Buy America? In Nucor's Backyard, China Steel in US Bridges

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In the first quarter of 2013, Chinese steel companies shipped 480,095 tons of steel to the U.S., up 33% from a year earlier.

By contrast, total U.S. steel imports for the same period fell by 17% to 10.6 million tons, the International Business Times tells us, in a recent report on the penetration of Chinese steel into the US steel market.

The reason seems simple: a recent survey of American buyers of steel used in construction found that prices for Chinese-made steel are 25 percent lower.

According to a WSJ article, most of the steel from China now goes into building projects like bridges and buildings, in direct competition to US champions such as Nucor Steel. Calls for infrastructure spending have therefore not benefitted domestic steelmakers to the extent that was hoped or intended.

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What’s the biggest insult to injury lately?

In one of the most blatant examples of the benefits of US infrastructure investment going abroad last year, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority awarded a $235.7 million contract to repair the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to a contractor in California, who in turn subcontracted the fabrication of steel decks for the bridge to China.

The contractor, Tutor Perini Corp., subcontracted the fabrication of steel decks for the bridge to China Railway Shanhaiguan Bridge Group, which the MTA says is using 15,000 tons of steel plate made by China’s Anshan Iron & Steel Group.

The decks will replace the bi-level bridge’s concrete upper roadway. And therein lies an example of at least part of the problem.

Not Just Prices of Steel

today's metal prices - MetalMiner IndXThis isn’t simply a matter of the steel price (although that does come into it). When it comes to bridge building in the U.S., Bill McEleney of the National Steel Bridge Alliance, whose members make bridges and bridge parts, is quoted in the IBT as saying, many U.S. companies can build bridges, but not many are experienced with the flat-deck design being used these days to build or renovate heavily trafficked bridges.

Many other bridges, and potentially more infrastructure sectors, are penetrated by Chinese steel – continued in Part Two.

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