Senior executives from the global steel industry unanimously agreed that 'war' was a good description of the current situation plaguing the American steel industry thanks to China's persistent dumping of cheap steel on US territory.
In what was arguably one of the best Town Hall Forums organised by AISTech, one of this year's panelists, Lourenco Goncalves of Cliffs Natural Resources, said that war was a good description of the situation that exists between the USA and China. "We're at war with China," he said, adding that the Chinese declared war with the USA and they were being aided and abetted by the Australians who are supplying them with iron ore to 'perpetrate war with the rest of the world'.
"We continue to entertain China," Goncalves told a massed audience of steelmakers at AISTech's 14th Town Hall Forum, a grand occasion where a panel of senior steel executives get together to discuss, in a chat show format, the issues of the day – and China, of course, was never off the agenda.
The panelists had earlier been given the opportunity to describe in one word their thoughts on the steel industry of today. John Brett of ArcelorMittal USA called it 'challenging'; Piotr Galitzine of TMK IPSCO said it was 'chaotic'; Nucor Corporation's John Bass said he was 'cautiously optimistic' and Lourenco Goncalves of Cliffs described it as 'promising, but never boring'. Glenn Pushis of Steel Dynamics agreed with Brett and said it was 'challenging'.
Nucor's Bass described China as a company disguised as a country. "It's a war and they're winning at the moment," he added.
US Steel is bringing lawsuits against Chinese companies under what is known in the USA as Section 337. The American steel giant is accusing the Chinese of theft, cheating and stealing trade secrets and is optimistic of success. The company's Doug Matthews hopes it will result in a long ban on Chinese steel imports.
Matthews also took issue with the word 'protectionist', arguing that the United States was simply demanding a level playing field. "Subsidised imports are not based on competitive market forces," he said.
Moving on to granting China 'market economy status' – or MES – ArcelorMittal USA's Brett said that 'treating China as a market economy would render anti-dumping trade laws useless and give China free access to our markets'. It would risk milions of jobs, he asserted.
TMK IPSCO's Galitzine said that the American steel industry would have to fight on any level it can to ensure a future for jobs and industry, while Nucor's Bass said that MES cannot be granted until China is a confirmed market economy.
Cliffs' Gonvalves argued that China will continue to pollute as long as the world does nothing, adding that the USA must stop them.
When the conversation was directed towards steel markets, it was quick to return to the issue of China. Nucor's Bass said that while the construction industry was one of his company's strongest markets, Chinese imports will negate recovery in any steel market. This was followed up by Cliffs' Goncalves stating that 'enforcing trade laws was the basis of everything'. He added that the USA was not against fair competition . "We thrive on that and must preserve a fair, legal market here in the USA."
Echoing Nucor CEO John Ferriola's comments at an earlier press conference here at AISTech, US Steel's Doug Matthews said: "We welcome fairly traded imports." He added that demand was greater than supply in the USA and that the United States benefits from low energy costs and captive raw materials, not forgetting a competitive environment within which to manufacture steel – but unfairly traded products negate all that.