March 2018

You have to hand it to US President Donald Trump. He said he would help the USA’s ailing indigenous steel industry and towards the end of last month he did just that – by announcing plans to slap 25% tariffs on imported steel. We all know that the USA’s main gripe in this respect is with China, the global steel industry’s ‘big bad wolf’, but let’s face facts and say that while the global steel industry has protested about cheap Chinese steel, only the Americans have been proactive with both anti-dumping tariffs and countervailing duties. And now they’ve upped the ante with Section 232, claiming, some would argue spuriously, that steel imports from China and elsewhere, are likely to compromise US national security.

Some disagree and blame ‘more complex issues’ for the US steel industry’s demise – mis-management being high on their agenda – but Philip K Bell, president of the Steel Manufacturers Association, an organisation representing electric steelmakers, who account for 67% of total US steel production, told me in a recent interview that it isn’t just a military procurement exercise. “It is also to do with your energy grid, with critical infrastructure such as sea ports, airports and military bases. It’s to do with water distribution systems, highways and bridges’. In this sense, argues Bell, there’s no doubt that untethered steel imports, from China and elsewhere, pose a threat to US national security.

Industry observers are rightly concerned about a potential trade war, although some say Trump’s recent pronouncement is just hot air, a bit like that wall he plans to build between the US and Mexico. But whatever your view, the US President has lit the blue touch paper and is readying himself for the fireworks and the stormy weather ahead. 

What the wider industry needs to understand, argues Philip K Bell, is that when the USA is fighting on these issues, it is trying to ensure ‘that companies and countries obey our laws and that they follow rules-based trade’. 

Trump, however, finds himself between a rock and a hard place. To rust belt steelworkers, he's the good guy, but to his detractors and those in the steel industry who oppose blanket tariffs, he's the bad guy.

It's a bit like the end of the movie Falling Down when Michael Douglas asks “I’m the bad guy?” before he is shot by Robert Duval. 

As criticism mounts over Trump’s action there is a real risk that he will be branded the ‘bad guy’, when I'm sure he would argue that the real villains of the piece are those countries, China included, who are not playing by the rules and dumping unfairly traded steel on the president’s doorstep.

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March 2018 highlights

2 Leader – by Matthew Moggridge, editor, Steel Times International

4 News – astounding facts and figures, industry news and diary dates

7 Innovations – the latest new products

10 Charles Hatchett Award Winning Paper 2017

15 USA Update – America first or America alone?

17 Latin America Update – Uncertainties ahead

20 Iron ore – Pilbara Blend capacity expanded

22 Future shock! – Business Ethics 4.0 @steelindustry

29 Continuous casting – the game-changer steelmakers choose to ignore

34 Tube, wire rod and pipe – latest developments in the market

41 Conference report – managing the digital revolution

47 Perspectives – LTI-Metaltech answers our questions

52 History – British industry between the wars