OPINION: Foreign steel dumping threatens our national security
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This spring, President Trump ordered the Commerce Department to initiate a national security investigation under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. The question is whether foreign steel imports threaten America’s ability to defend itself and to respond quickly to national emergencies. I believe the answer is a clear "yes!"

Left unchecked, countries like China and Russia will unfairly continue flooding the global steel market, increasing their production without regard for market forces, propping up their steel industries and bolstering their economies. For example, since 2000, China has increased its steel capacity from roughly the same level as that of the United States to over 10 times that of the U.S., roughly 1.2 billion tons this year. 

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These foreign imports are being dumped in the U.S. and world markets at rock-bottom prices. American companies are finding it unsustainable to compete against government-backed steel production. American jobs are being lost and our national security is on the line. We cannot allow this trend to continue.

 

Should the Trump Commerce Department make a positive determination in this case, the U.S. could limit imports on foreign steel. Some argue that such an action could prompt a global trade war. The reality is, we are already engaged in just such a conflict, and we’re losing. 

But the consequences are more than economic in nature. These countries invest their unjust returns into their own armed forces. To sit idly by as these abuses take place is to enable our adversaries to expand their military capabilities as our own are put at risk.

It takes 22 tons of steel plate to make just one Abrams tank, and the U.S. military possess over 8,500 of them! During the surge in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon increased Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle production from 82 vehicles a month to 1,300 per month. It was the ability of U.S. steel producers to meet this incredible demand surge that allowed for the record production and the enhanced protection of American servicemen and women from improvised explosive devices (IEDs).   

Unfair trade practices by foreign steel producers put America’s ability to meet future military demands in jeopardy. It has become evident that traditional trade enforcement remedies are not stabilizing the sector. Chinese and other unfair trade practices are infecting world markets and injuring our own.

Leaders of both parties in Washington have discussed the critical need to make massive infrastructure investments. The maintenance and construction of everything from bridges to transformers for the electric grid will require huge amounts of steel. When these investments are made, should American taxpayers be paying for quality steel made by American workers or required to support the purchase of cheap substandard, foreign-made steel? 

While affirmative Section 232 determinations have been rare over the 55-year history of the Trade Expansion Act, the current complexities of today’s threat environment demonstrate why the provision exists. 

Today’s geopolitical climate is fraught with multi-dimensional risk, from ISIS terrorism and North Korean hostility to Russian aggression in the Ukraine and Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea. Moreover, some have argued that the majority of U.S. steel imports are from “allies.” In any context, it is difficult to conclude that China and Russia view us as allies. 

What's more, political earthquakes, such as Brexit and the rise of nationalism across the globe, have made clear that even the most stable of our economic and military alliances are susceptible to change. 

To rely upon foreign producers to provide for our domestic and military infrastructure amid such uncertainty is shortsighted and impedes our ability to be prepared and agile. As both a matter of national policy and operational capability, such a position is folly. 

Steel capacity is not something that can be replaced at the snap of a finger should allies become unreliable or our enemies disrupt the supply chain. This indisputable fact is what separates this trade case from others. The United States must have this capability for its own key needs, without dependence on those that compete against us economically or challenge us militarily.

In the coming days, political pundits and ideologues will be watching the outcome of this investigation, but make no mistake; our competitors and enemies will be watching as well.  

This has long been an issue that has challenged our nation. I recall as a young member of Congress when, in 1984, President Reagan directed his trade representative, Bill Brock, to negotiate voluntary restraint agreements with steel-exporting countries. Brock said it showed, “a clear demonstration that we will not be the world’s steel dump.” Yet more than 30 years later the challenge remains.

I have not hesitated to disagree strongly with President Trump on many issues, but his decision to launch a Section 232 investigation on steel imports was appropriate as our world becomes more dangerous. Should the administration rightly determine that steel dumping by China, Russia and others threaten U.S. national security, count me among the first to commend the president for taking action.

Tom Ridge was the first U.S. secretary of homeland security and the 43rd governor of Pennsylvania. Ridge is an advisor to the Alliance for American Manufacturing, an organization founded by leading manufacturing companies in the U.S. and United Steelworkers. 


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.