With Trade In Election Spotlight, U.S. Steel Seeks Ban On Chinese Imports

May 5, 2016

U.S. Steel's Gary Works plant in 1973.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

One of Northwest Indiana's biggest employers wants to ban Chinese steel from the American market.

In a complaint with the International Trade Commission, U.S. Steel says Chinese imports are hurting jobs in places like Indiana -- where steel was also a hot topic on the campaign trail.

The Pittsburgh-based company, which employs thousands in Gary, is accusing China of price fixing, stealing trade secrets and mislabeling where its steel is coming from.

U.S. Steel says that's let China dump steel into the U.S. market, depressing prices and skewing the market.

Imported steel covers a quarter of the U.S. market, while steel production in the Great Lakes region fell nearly 3 percent just last week, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.

The U.S. Steel filing is the kind presidential hopefuls have also promised to pursue. During a visit to a Hammond steel plant before Tuesday's primary election, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton said she'd appoint a trade prosecutor to look at China:

"And we're going to send an absolute message, you're not going to get away with this anymore," she said, adding that she'd make the American steel industry a priority if elected president.

Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump also told Indiana voters in April that steel trade with China was "not fair trade, it’s not free trade -- it’s stupid trade for our country."

"We're not going to do it anymore," Trump said at a rally in Indianapolis.  

But the steel problem is already hitting home for some Hoosiers. At a pre-election protest with Clinton rival Bernie Sanders last week, United Steelworkers Indiana director Mike Millsap said China had thrown a wrench into recent contract negotiations with U.S. Steel.

"We didn't get what our workers were entitled to, what our members were entitled to," he said. "We didn't get it because China is flooding this market with steel at a cost that we can't compete at.

The huge union spent months hashing out a new three-year compensation contract for its members at U.S. Steel and fellow steel producer ArcelorMittal. The new three-year contract limits pay raises, but does include higher profit shares.

In a statement, the Steelworkers say employees will see those once U.S. steel "bounces back from the current crisis.

The ITC has 30 days to decide whether to pursue U.S. Steel's complaint.