Now that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossHouse panel, Commerce Department reach agreement on census documents China sanctions Wilbur Ross, others after US warns of doing business in Hong Kong DOJ won't prosecute Wilbur Ross after watchdog found he gave false testimony MORE submitted the Department’s Section 232 report to President TrumpDonald TrumpCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Netanyahu suggests Biden fell asleep in meeting with Israeli PM Aides try to keep Biden away from unscripted events or long interviews, book claims MORE, the White House can deliver a major victory for America’s steelworkers — and the countless other industries buoyed by their work — with bold trade action.
The invocation of Section 232 would allow the United States to finally start fighting back in the trade war already launched against us by countries like China.
The calculated, strategic plan responsible for the rapid rise of Chinese steel production — circumventing international trade laws to illegally dump cheap, subsidized steel into the global market — helps account for our country’s downward steel spiral from the world’s leading exporter to the world’s leading importer.
Over the course of the past 15 years, China has ramped up production to more than 800 million tons of steel a year — more than half of the world’s capacity. To put that into perspective, 70 percent of the world’s capacity was produced by the United States back in the 1970s. We're now down to a mere 5 percent.
Offering new optimism during that decline, President Trump himself declared last year that “they’re dumping steel and destroying our steel industry, they’ve been doing it for decades, and I’m stopping it.” The immediate incorporation of Section 232 as part of our long-term strategy is precisely how we can begin that process of stopping it.
Speaking to the critical need to combat the unfair practices employed by foreign producers like China, Section 232 is unique in its ability to break party barriers. Despite the hyper-partisan climate in Washington, leaders from across the ideological spectrum are united in recognizing the importance of Section 232 — from progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio).
Despite that broad, bipartisan consensus around Section 232, the latest spin paints President Trump’s forthcoming decision as a binary choice between America’s agriculture and steel sectors.
However, as the data show, the interests of these two great industries, which carried America through the recession of 1973-1975 and will be relied upon to do so again amid future economic slowdowns, are not mutually exclusive, but shared.
Steel production in the United States peaked in 1973 at 137 million metric tons of raw steel. Meanwhile, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, the highest ever recorded net farm income in America, as adjusted for inflation, also came in 1973 at more than $147 billion.
That net farm income figure “plays an important role in the design, implementation and evaluation of agricultural policy.” The highest gross value added to the United States economy by the agriculture sector — more than $246 billion — occurred in 1973 as well.
The same is also true for the two industries’ troughs; 10 years after their parallel peaks, these key indicators simultaneously hit record lows. According to more than four decades of data compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey, America’s domestic steel industry suffered its second-worst year for production in 1982.
The following year, net farm income sunk to its nadir, which was a smaller figure than even the lowest low experienced during the Great Depression. It’s clear that when our steelworkers compete on a level playing field, our farmers succeed on the agriculture fields. When the rust belt does well, so too does rural America.
But in the rust belt today, the American steel industry isn’t competing; it’s collapsing. As a result of the one-sided trade war, steelworkers lost 48,000 jobs from 2000 to 2016 alone. Communities like Bethlehem, Penn.; Lackawanna, N.Y.; Sparrows Point, Md.; and Youngstown, Ohio continue to deteriorate following the closures of facility after facility.
Consumers wouldn’t accept the corrosion of steel made by these plants; we as citizens shouldn’t accept the corrosion of the communities they were in.
President Trump knows that the U.S. can't win by allowing the Chinese to pit farmers in rural America against steel producers and American manufacturers in our great Midwest. Both are the backbone of our country's growth and prosperity.
He is working for fair trade for both of these critical American sectors. We need to trust our president and support him as he levels the playing field after decades of cheating and manipulation by China.
Todd Leebow is president and CEO of Majestic Steel USA, an Ohio-based nationwide steel service center and master distributor of steel.