It’s been five months and a day since President Donald Trump signed a memorandum calling for Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to prioritize the Section 232 investigation that would assess whether steel imports posed a national security risk.
Many expected an announcement of the investigation’s findings in June or July, but it never came.
As the delay drags on, the U.S. steel industry has expressed its desire for the Trump administration to act vis-a-vis the 232 probe.
The United Steelworkers (USW) union was the latest group to urge the administration to act.
“The time to act is now, and workers are telling politicians their first-hand stories of the devastation in the industry and the critical importance of providing relief,” USW International President Leo W. Gerard said in a prepared statement.
Steelworkers from around the country traveled to Washington D.C. this week to urge lawmakers to pressure the administration to make good on promises to protect the domestic steel (and aluminum) industry, particularly in the face of global overcapacity. According to USW, steelworkers from multiple U.S.-based steelmaking operations in eight states — including plants in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Alabama, Minnesota, Kentucky and Michigan — worked this week to arrange visits with members of Congress to discuss the issue.
The domestic steel industry expressed optimism on the heels of the April announcement launching the investigation, which came to life through the little-used Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.
The delay, however, has prompted those in the domestic industry to urge the administration to act, particularly in light of a rise in steel imports. According to the Commerce Department’s most recent Steel Import Monitoring and Analysis (SIMA) data, steel imports rose 21.4% through the first eight months of the year compared with the same time frame last year.
“The delay in acting is devastating,” USW International Vice President Tom Conway said in the release. “Plants are closing, jobs are lost and communities are injured while politicians delay. Now there are rumors that action is being delayed so Congress can focus on tax reform. That’s an insult to the hardworking men and women whose jobs depend on the industry. Steelworker jobs and our national security should not be held hostage to tax cuts for the rich and powerful as America’s future is at risk.”
Momentum behind a trade remedy — tariffs, quotas, or a tariff-quota hybrid — seemed to be picking up steam earlier in the summer, but the administration’s self-imposed June deadline came and went. Since then, health care, tax reform, geopolitical tension on the Korean peninsula and, most recently, humanitarian crises in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have dominated much of the administration’s public dialogue.
In late July, Trump told the Wall Street Journal that he didn’t want to act on Section 232 at that time. Almost two months since that interview, many in the U.S. steel industry continue to wonder when that time will come.
Per the law, Ross has 270 days after the probe has been launched to present the president with a report outlining recommendations, which sets a mid-January deadline. The Section 232 aluminum probe, launched a week after the steel probe, also has a January deadline.
The imposition of tariffs on steel imports — or some other form of protection for the domestic industry — seemed like a clear slam dunk earlier this year. They very well may still happen, but any sort of conclusion to the Section 232 probe will be coming much later, and much closer to the deadline, than previously expected.