International trade issues high on NAFEM Washington agenda

In 2001, the response to NAFEM’s request, the Bush Administration exempted stainless steel sheet and strip from Section 201 tariffs on most imported steel. Some NAFEM members using galvanized or other products covered by the tariffs have still seen tariff-caused price increases, but not nearly as great as those of many steel-using manufacturers, who have seen price increases of 30 percent or even more on the steel they use.

NAFEM supports the steel users’ sub-committee of the Consumer-Trade Action Coalition (CITAC) in its effort to get the Section 201 tariffs phased out this September.

Part of NAFEM’s effort has been to support a revision of steel trade policy with the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), which historically has refused to comment on the needs of steel users, despite its overall free-trade orientation.

NAFEM supported a highly contentious resolution passed by the NAM International Trade Committee calling for recognition of the impact of steel tariffs on steel users in the formulation of steel trade policy. Despite bitter opposition from steel manufacturers, this resolution was approved by the NAM committee and subsequently by the NAM Board of Directors.

The new NAM policy statement, titles “Challenges to U.S. Manufacturers in the Global Marketplace,” reiterated a number of barriers to U.S. exports, such as the high value of the dollar, tariff barriers overseas and government subsidies. But NAM’s policy statement does include this new addition:

“NAM believes that the needs of steel producers and steel consumers should be take into consideration in formulating international policy on steel. To help clarify key issues that are affecting manufacturing in the United States, NAM recommends that President Bush instruct the U.S. International Trade Commission to gather evidence of the impact of the steel Section 201 steel tariffs on both steel-producing and steel-consuming industries and to report its findings no later than July 31, 2003.”

Resolutions also have been introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate calling on the International Trade Commission to report to President Bush on the impact of the tariffs on steel-using industries. These resolutions are unlikely to overcome the steel-trade caucuses of Congress, but their introduction and support by a credible number of House and Senate representatives indicates that steel users employ far more workers than steel manufacturers and that an unbalanced trade policy hurts U.S. industry more than it helps it.