Congressmen push for legislation to keep Ohio steel industry jobs

Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown are urging for full implementation of the Leveling the Playing Field Act, which challenges unfair foreign trade practices

WASHINGTON (WKBN) – Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown and Congressman Tim Ryan testified at the U.S. International Trade Commission on Tuesday during a hearing on the global steel industry. They argued that U.S. manufacturers and workers are at an unfair disadvantage because of the trade practices of foreign countries like China.

Portman said Ohio workers are facing unfair foreign competition and that the steel industry is in a crisis.

In 2015, Ohio suffered more than 1,500 layoffs in the steel industry, according to Portman’s testimony. He also added that there were more than 13,000 industry layoffs nationwide.

Portman and Brown are urging U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzler to fully implement the Leveling the Playing Field Act, which President Obama signed into law last summer.

Brown introduced the legislation in March 2015, which allows U.S. companies to challenge trade practices that have given foreign countries an unfair advantage.

Portman said the act will give U.S. businesses and workers the power to petition the Commerce Department and the International Trade Commission when foreign producers sell goods in the U.S. below market price or receive illegal subsidies.

Ryan also supports this legislation, saying steel pipe and tube companies in his district including JMC Energex, TMK IPSCO, Vallourec USA and Bull Moose Tube have been impacted by these practices.

“The global oversupply of steel and illegal dumping by countries like China have had a devastating effect on the steel industry here in Ohio, and in towns like ours across the country,” Ryan said. “Unfortunately we have seen firsthand  the massive negative impact caused when plants are closed and friends and family lose their source of income, and it has a rippling effect that touches every part of the community.”

Brown called on the government to bring a World Trade Organization case against China because he says the country is not following through on its obligations. He says the Chinese government committed to reducing steel production and capacity, but has failed to do so.

“China is in violation of its WTO obligations and we need, along with our global allies, to hold them accountable,” Brown said.

Brown is also pushing for a renegotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s auto rules of origin. These rules could result in less U.S. steel being used in car manufacturing, which would mean fewer cars would come from the U.S. auto supply chain.

Portman said the government also needs to address currency manipulation. He received a letter last year from thousands of Ohio auto workers that called this issue “the most critical barrier in the 21st century.”

He said when competitors manipulate their currencies, American-made exports are more expensive and competitors’ exports into the U.S. are cheaper.

“We need to play offense by expanding American access to foreign markets, and we need a strong defense that protects American workers from unfair imports,” Portman said. “If we continue to allow foreign countries to cheat and to use dishonest tactics, then we will see more layoffs, more lost market share, and more closed factories. In turn, we risk the well-being of struggling families and communities.”

“There will not be one quick solution to reverse years of our foreign competitors flouting the rules,” Brown said. “Saving the steel industry will require a commitment of time, resources, and effort. There is a real and serious human cost of doing nothing. More and more of our steelworkers will lose their livelihoods.”

The Leveling the Playing Field Act will benefit several steel companies in Ohio, including Sharon Tube in Niles, Wheatland Tube in Warren and Vallourec Star in Youngstown.

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