The first two panels at the virtual Tampa Steel Conference featured leading voices on the subject of foreign trade of steel products. Following remarks by AISI President Kevin Dempsey, John Packard welcomed in SMA President Philip K. Bell, Trade Attorney Lewis Leibowitz and Chris Shipp, vice president of two Priefert companies, which serve both distribution and manufacturing functions.
Their remarks were fairly predictable. The association leaders expressed support for robust actions on the trade front, including the continued existence of the Section 232 tariffs implemented by former President Donald Trump.
Equally unsurprising were the comments from Leibowitz, who has long argued against tariffs as an attorney specializing on that side of the trade equation, and Shipp, who bemoaned the effects of tariffs on downstream companies such as his.
But in a twist, the Qs in the Q&A were more revealing than the As. A steady stream of questions posed for the participants in the chat challenged the status quo on trade, particularly given the tight supply conditions that have led to astronomical steel prices.
A sampling of those queries, the vast majority of them some variation on the same theme, demonstrates the attitude of the attendees of the conference:“Shouldn't trade protectionism, like Section 232, be used to address dumping –and not global overcapacity?”
“There were already significant import tariffs and anti-dumping duties on imports from China and others, before Section 232. With those tariffs and duties already in place, why is Section 232 needed?”
“At what point do the numbers or prices for steel reach a level that in the medium/long term impact our manufacturing base can't compete with what the rest of the world can produce at!! Less players means less options for the manufacturing base to stay competitive and invest going forward!!!” (Editor’s note: the extra exclamation points were the attendee’s, not ours).
“The steel users here in the U.S. are being squeezed by shortages and pricing sky rocketing – what solutions are there for this?”
These steel consumers may not have the same microphone as the leaders of trade groups or prominent Beltway attorneys. But their views are still worth listening to.