In December 2003 President Bush announced his decision to remove the steel tariffs he had imposed 21 months earlier under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974. Since then prices for most major steel products have achieved or are flirting with record highs, and one steel company after another has reported strong earnings for the first quarter of 2004. Profit estimates going forward are just as rosy.
Meanwhile, many domestic steel-consuming industries are in trouble. As their steel costs have risen dramatically, many have had to endure shrinking and even negative profit margins.
Despite the removal of the Section 201 steel tariffs, imported steel remains subject to hundreds of antidumping and countervailing duty orders. Those duties artificially reduce supply, putting steel-consuming industries at the mercy of domestic producers who are virtually unrestrained from setting high prices.
Policymakers should move to mitigate the adverse consequences of restrictions on trade and endeavor to restore greater competition to this vital market before skyrocketing steel prices damage the U.S. economy.
Accordingly, the president, through the secretary of commerce, should exercise his authority to undertake “changed circumstances” reviews of all outstanding antidumping and countervailing duty orders on steel products with an eye to terminating those measure that no longer make sense. Many have been in place for more than a decade, a period during which circumstances have obviously changed.
Lifting, even temporarily, some of the 188 antidumping and countervailing duty orders now in effect would alleviate some of the burden and be a shot in the arm for U.S. manufacturing. It would also be the next logical step toward restoring real competition in the vital steel market.