The chief executive officer of Charlotte-based Nucor joined other leading steelmakers on Thursday warning members of Congress about the dangers of foreign steel flooding U.S. markets.
John Ferriola told members of the bipartisan Congressional Steel Caucus that steel mills will continue to close and more Americans will lose their jobs unless the U.S. government works to stop illegal foreign trade practices that he says are undercutting domestic steel manufacturers.
“Our government must take a much tougher line with countries that break the law,” Ferriola said in his prepared remarks.
Steel companies are essentially suffering because of the growing economy as foreign manufacturers, who pay less to produce metal, have been able to undercut U.S. steelmakers, the executives said. Industry leaders also charged several steel companies in China, Turkey and North Korea with violating international trade agreements by manipulating their currency and providing unfair subsidies.
One third of finished steel products in the United States are produced abroad, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute, an industry trade group. Finished steel imports increased 36 percent over the previous year. Meanwhile, domestic shipments were up only 2 to 3 percent. American steel mills are running at only 69 percent of their capacity, according to the institute.
The panel of industry executives and labor representatives spoke to an overflowing room of people who came to watch and listen to the “2015 State of Steel” meeting.
Dozens of Congress members, including N.C. Republican Reps. Robert Pittenger and Richard Hudson and N.C. Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield, flowed into the room to hear the group call for better policies on trade, infrastructure investment and math and science education.
After listening to the panelists, caucus chairman Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., described the outlook as “alarming” and “sobering.”
“We need to do something,” Murphy said.
Murphy said the U.S. government must ensure trade laws are better enforced. And he called on the U.S. Department of Commerce to stand up for American companies so they have a better shot to compete.
Since 2000, more than 5.6 million U.S. manufacturing jobs have been lost because of what the industry says is the lack of aggressive policies to promote manufacturing.
Thomas Conway, international vice president of the United Steelworkers, said good manufacturing jobs in rebar, line pipe, wire rod and electrical steel have been lost.
Conway raised concerns both about proposed trade agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as well as a proposal to fast-track future trade agreements.
He accused the Obama administration of essentially ignoring the problem of currency manipulation, which Conway said has helped fuel the flood of unfairly priced imports in the United States.
Several members, including Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., said they would not vote to give the president authority to fast track trade agreements.
But Hudson, of North Carolina, urged colleagues to “keep their powder dry” in the trade debate and see whether there is an opportunity to write legislation that helps the industry.
“I don’t think we should give up that option,” he said.
During the briefing, Ferriola expressed frustration that the U.S. government has not done more to protect Americans steelmakers as foreign producers have grown more brazen, he said, as they violate trade agreements. But he struck a more optimistic tone following the hearing, saying he and others won’t stop fighting for American workers and industry.
“We never give up,” he said. “Following the law is the right thing to do.”