By Daniel R. DiMicco
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - If you've ever watched the popular TV show "Law & Order" or served on a criminal jury, you've seen how evasive tactics and rhetorical sleight-of-hand are used to muddy the law and befuddle jurors.
Those same tactics are being used by opponents of President Bush's March 2002 decision to impose tariffs on certain categories of imported foreign steel. The facts in the case are simple. The foreign manufacturers were disregarding U.S. and international trade law, "dumping" subsidized foreign steel in the U.S. market. They got caught. Now they're being punished.
That's all you have to remember. Everything else you read or hear is smoke and mirrors - and, in some cases, outright distortions and lies.
The president imposed the "Section 201" unfair trade sanctions after a seven-month investigation by the U.S. International Trade Commission, which found against the foreign producers.
That investigation followed more than 200 prior government investigative findings that unfairly and illegally traded foreign steel was being sold in the United States. The tariffs are intended to level the playing field. Free trade has as a basic tenant - that the trade be rules-based, responsible and legal.
While U.S. steel companies must rely on their ingenuity and productivity for their survival and prosperity, foreign steel producers have benefited from an estimated $100 billion in subsidies from their governments over the last 20 years.
With their governments propping them up and egging them on, the foreign companies pay little regard to the normal forces of supply and demand, resulting in a glut of excess steel on the international market: nearly 270 million metric tons in 2000 alone, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Frequently priced below the cost of production, the excess supply is dumped in the United States, violating international trade law, and badly damaging the domestic steel industry.
The administration's three-year "steel action plan" levels the playing field by imposing import tariffs on 13 finished steel products. Products coming from countries with which the United States has free-trade agreements are exempted from the tariffs, as are products from 99 developing countries, and 200 products manufactured overseas but not in the United States.
Since the program began a year ago, the United States has been trying to get the worst of the offenders - Brazil, China, Japan, Korea, Russia and several European countries - to play by World Trade Organization rules and curtail both the subsidies to their domestic steel industries and their unlawful dumping. But the going has been slow.
The years of international rule-breaking already have forced three dozen U.S. steel companies to file for bankruptcy since 1997, including such industry giants at LTV and Bethlehem Steel. An estimated 54,000 American iron and steel workers have permanently lost their jobs.
Washington should continue to say "no" to those who want to end the steel respite program early, or grant additional exemptions.
If foreign producers insist on flouting U.S. and international trade law, they ought to pay the price.
Daniel R. DiMicco is president, CEO and vice chairman of Nucor Corp., www.nucor.com, America's largest steel producer, and serves as chairman of the American Iron and Steel Institute, www.steel.org. Readers may write to him at Nucor Corp., 2100 Rexford Road, Charlotte, N.C. 28211.
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