Commerce Secretary's remarks come days after steelworkers pressed him to act ASAP.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC on Friday morning that the long-delayed national investigations into steel and aluminum imports won’t be released until after Congress deals with tax reform.
Ross’s statement comes just two days after he met via phone with steelworkers who were in Washington to urge the administration to release the “Section 232” investigations as soon as possible. Tom Conway, the international vice president of the United Steelworkers, told Inside U.S. Trade after the meeting that Ross “wants to release [the report] as soon as he can.”
But it now appears steel and aluminum workers will have to wait until a massive tax overhaul works its way through Congress before they get any relief.
Ross said on CNBC that the Trump administration doesn’t “want to do things that will unnecessarily irritate the Senate” – i.e., Republicans whose votes are needed on taxes but who also tend to be opposed to action on imports. Along with delaying the Section 232 investigations, CNBC reports the administration is also “softening its stance” on key trade issues like NAFTA and a trade deal with South Korea.
Meanwhile, steelworkers from Alabama to Michigan to Indiana and beyond continue to cope with job losses and plant closures as imports surge into the country. Since the two “Section 232” imports investigations were launched in April, steel imports alone are up more than 21 percent.
"By public affirming a delay in the Section 232 review and relief, the administration may be laying out a welcome mat for a surge in steel imports," said Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing. "This is a mistake."
“If nothing’s done… it’s just going to get worse.” Terra Samuel, steelworker at ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor
Paul noted that the rationale of the Trump administration's decision doesn't make much sense.
"A Republican Senator is going to oppose corporate tax relief because of a steel trade action? Unlikely," Paul said. "Good luck selling that to American factory workers."
Indeed. If the imports continue unchecked, more plants are likely to shut down – and more jobs will be lost. The ongoing crisis already has been devastating to working class communities across the country, like the mining community supported by Minnesota’s Iron Range.
“We’ve been through a pretty tough last couple of years. We’ve had a lot of plant shutdowns, layoffs,” said Cliff Tobey, who represents Iron Range workers as president of USW Local 2660. “Matter of fact, my plant, we just got up and running after about a 20-month shutdown. Very, very hard on our members and their families.”
The situation is similar at U.S. Steel Gary Works in Indiana, reports William “Billy” McCaul.
“The impact on the region, Northwest Indiana, is very deep. One steelworker probably is about seven other jobs in the community. I mean, that’s your barber, your doctor, your grocer,” he said. “And so one steelworker job impacts deep, the region, and then overall the state of Indiana, and then, too, the United States of America. It’s a chain.”
Terra Samuel, who works at ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor near Chicago, also came to D.C. this week. She said that if the investigation is “not wrapped up soon, we may end up in a lot of trouble.”
“If nothing’s done… it’s just going to get worse,” Samuel said, noting that if dumped imports reach a certain level, it might not be possible for U.S. industry to cope. “I mean, when you’re looking at steel, you’re looking at cars, you’re looking at infrastructure, you’re looking at all kinds of impact, national security. So, it hurts us in so many ways. If we can get a handle on it now, it’ll be the best thing for us to do.”