AISI’s Gibson: Senate Customs Bill Gives Steel Industry Best Chance at Level Playing Field

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The American Iron and Steel Institute said in a telephone press conference that the House of Representatives’ passage last Friday of a customs bill, which includes new trade remedy provisions for collecting tariffs on imports determined to have been illegally subsidized or “dumped” by their origin nations, was a major win for the US steel industry.

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The House voted in favor, Friday, of trade promotion authority (TPA), a major free trade power desired by President Obama, but the House also rejected Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) in a separate vote. In order for TPA to advance to the President for his signature, the House had to pass both TPA and TAA. So, TPA was pronounced not to have passed yet, either.

What Now For Trade Authority?

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R. Ohio) has already moved to reconsider the vote on TAA and the House rules committee will extend the time for a second vote to occur sometime between now and July 3oth. While it was certainly a setback for the President in getting fast approval of TPA, there was a separate vote on a customs bill that includes trade remedy provisions that passed.

“We specifically advocated for provisions to provide for more effective remedies against imports that are dumped or subsidized,” said Thomas Gibson, president and CEO of AISI. “As regulars on this call know, steel imports have reached historic levels in the past few years due, in large part, to unfair trade practices.”

New Customs Enforcement Passes

Finished steel imports in 2014 increased 36% compared to 2013. Total steel imports over the same time frame were up 38%. Last year, imports captured 28% of the market surpassing the prior record of 26% and this year the finished import steel market share has continued to thrive and is already at 32% on the year-to-date. Not surprisingly, year-to-date raw steel production is down 7.3% and shipments through April were down 9.5%.

Approval of the House customs bill was NOT dependent on the passage of the TPA/TAA package in the House, either. So, both the Senate and House have passed customs bills. The Senate passed its ENFORCE (Enforcing Orders and Reducing Customs Evasion) bill in April.

The two bills now go to conference committee to resolve their differences. One difference between the House and Senate bills is the so-called “enforcement act” provisions which would create a new procedure for industries to petition for action to address trans-shipment and evasion of already-determined customs duties. The ENFORCE Act creates procedures for a federal agency or interested party to make good faith allegations of a company’s evasion of anti-dumping and countervailing duty orders to US Customs and Border Protection.

Senate ENFORCE Act Better for US Producers

“AISI has long-supported the Senate version of the bill and will continue to push for adoption of its approach in the conference committee,” Gibson said, “but the bottom line is the steel industry is one major step closer to getting trade remedy provisions signed into law after last Friday and that’s a good thing.”

Gibson also said the infrastructure bill authorization runs out again at the end of July and the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee are holding hearings this week to find a long-term solution for funding the Highway Trust Fund for upkeep of federal roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

No Reason to Tie Highway Funding to TAA

“It affects us in two ways: use of the infrastructure for a competitive economy and the public construction market is beholden to its infrastructure for transportation,” Gibson said. “AISI supports a user fee approach, something like a gas tax to provide a long-term funding solution. We think it can be solved this year.”

Gibson stopped short of supporting a solution that combines both a highway bill and TAA as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D. Calif.) advocated last week after speaking against the TAA bill on the House floor.

“We don’t believe it can get done at the same time at this point,” Gibson said.  “We believe those comments were more of an explanation by former Speaker Pelosi of why she was against the bill (TAA) she had said she was for the week before.”

Anti-Dumping Enforcement

Gibson said as soon as the conference committee sends a final customs bill to the President and he signs it, the new language would apply and a petitioner to Customs and Border Protection could take advantage of the new trade law remedy provisions for enforcing existing anti-dumping countervailing duties.

The remedy provisions would not drastically change the standards by which injury is determined and how they are adjudicated. The ENFORCE ACT and the House’s customs deal mainly with the enforcement, addressing evasion, trans-shipments and other ways importers avoid duties at US customs.

“As opposed to bringing cases to the International Trade Commission and Dept. of Commerce, which is the trade remedy provisions, these deal with enforcement,” Gibson said.  “That’s exactly why we think the Senate version (ENFORCE) is superior to the version that passed the House passed because it has enforceable deadlines and, if an agency ignored its obligations, you’d be able to go to a court to tell the agency to obey its mandate.”

Trade adjustment assistance expires at the end of September if it’s not reauthorized before then. Gibson said that would be a big loss for proponents of free trade such as the President and Congress’ republican majority who have both supported TAA in its current form. He also said the next “pressure point” was Congress’ July 4th recess which actually starts June 30th and AISI expected action on TAA before that.

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