International Trade Commission Vote Could Impact PA Steelworkers

Sep 1, 2014

An example of American-made steel pipes used in the oil and gas extraction process.
Credit Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

A recent decision by the International Trade Commission regarding South Korean steel tubes may have an effect here in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The ITC voted recently to impose duties on steel pipes and tubes from South Korea and five other countries, which were found to be “dumping” their products into the U.S. market.

“Dumping” refers to the practice of selling a product in another country for less than it is sold in the country where it is manufactured. It also includes the practice of selling a product for less than it cost to make.

“The Commerce Department recommended tariffs at a rate of about 16 percent on this pipe and tube, which was coming into the United States at no tariff because we have a free trade agreement with South Korea,” said Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a nonprofit advocacy group for the manufacturing industry.

In February, the U.S. Department of Commerce released a preliminary statement saying an investigation into South Korea’s practice of selling steel tubes in the U.S. found no evidence of dumping.

But the steel industry pushed back. In May, U.S. Steel held a rally outside its Munhall research center, where hundreds of steelworkers along with Congressmen Mike Doyle (D-Allegheny) and Tim Murphy (R-Allegheny) called on the department to continue its investigation.

“In addition to the rallies, a lot of members of Congress weighed in, in part because of this public expression of support for this campaign,” Paul said. “I’m sure their voices were heard at the commerce department and the International Trade Commission as well.”

Just days after the rally, U.S. Steel announced it would indefinitely suspend operations at its McKeesport plant, laying off 215 workers and 45 managers. A similar work suspension occurred at a U.S. Steel plant in Bellville, Texas.

The steel pipe and tube in question are used in the extraction of natural gas and oil. Pennsylvania is among the top producers of natural gas in the country, due to increased exploration of resources in the Marcellus Shale formation which underlies much of the state.

“The market for (steel pipe and tube) has grown exponentially with the finding of natural gas in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Louisiana, Texas, North Dakota, and other areas of the country,” Paul said.

State Sen. Jim Brewster, a Democrat from Allegheny County, in July introduced a trio of bills that would require Pennsylvania natural gas producers to use only steel products made in the United States.

“There is no way we should accept the fact that Pennsylvanians should get laid off from their jobs in a steel plant, in the same state where you have the proliferation of Marcellus Shale,” Brewster said. “These three bills will, I think, make some small effort to keep that from happening.”

Brewster said it is not only an economic issue, but also a safety issue.

“Current regulations in this country bring our steel industry to a standard that we can have confidence,” Brewster said. “I can’t sit and tell the public that I represent that if there’s foreign steel in that drilling site next to your farm, I can’t guarantee the quality of that product.”

Paul said it simply makes sense for American oil and gas companies to purchase American-made steel products, though he does not fault producers for simply purchasing the least expensive products available on the market.

“One of the goals of energy independence is to create jobs in the United States, and you don’t create jobs in the United States by getting your steel from China or Korea,” Paul said.