The weather forecast in Washington these days is cloudy with a chance of gridlock, based on interviews with steel industry representatives.
In the next few years, political and business leaders say trade groups will play an increasingly important role advocating on behalf of the steel industry. They say it also will be important to push current and future White House administrations to develop policies supporting the manufacturing sector, which likely will include discussions on how to handle international trade relations.
Lack of consensus
International trade has been one of the strongest lobbying platforms the domestic steel industry has promulgated as the share of imports consumed has grown in the last few decades.
In the last few legislative sessions, U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, said there hasn't been a majority of members in the House or Senate who have been willing to take "forceful, compelling action on trade." Visclosky has backed legislation to add countervailing duties on imports from countries that have an undervalued currency. The House passed the measure in 2010, but it died in the Senate. The following year, the Senate approved a similar measure, but it wasn't brought to the House floor for a vote.
"That's not getting the job done," Visclosky said. "And that's (just) one example."
In the future, Visclosky said it will be important for the government to respond faster with trade remedies. Typically, petitions are filed seeking trade relief after the industry has suffered significant damage and jobs are lost. He said if the system were improved to compress the time frame for trade cases and so customs personnel could spot duty violations, the domestic industry would benefit greatly.
"Steel, while it's profitable today, remains under great competitive pressures," Visclosky said.
Thomas Gibson, American Iron and Steel Institute CEO, said the industry has received good support from the Department of Commerce and individuals working in trade relations with the government. However, he said would like to see more support from the Oval Office.