Unfair trade practices by other countries have been a plague on the U.S. steel industry for decades. RG Steel's bankruptcy filing last month should raise the question of whether foreign steel makers still are being permitted to destroy American jobs and critical manufacturers.
The answer may be yes.
And it appears President Barack Obama is reluctant to crack down on some countries guilty of unfair trade practices despite a plea by the Congressional Steel Caucus that more be done to safeguard U.S. companies.
In March, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, and Congressman Mike Michaud, D-Maine, drafted a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to address China's continued currency manipulation.
''China continues to flout international trade laws by manipulating its currency value to increase its trade advantages,'' Ryan said. ''This is completely unacceptable. All that our people are asking for is a level playing field.''
Thomas Gibson, president and CEO of the American Iron and Steel Institute, urged legislators to sign on to this letter on behalf of the American manufacturing industry.
Ryan is also the sponsor of the Currency Reform Fair Trade Act that would ''protect U.S. manufacturers from unfair trade practices by determining whether the exchange rate of the currency of an exporting country is fundamentally under/overvalued against the U.S. dollar, by providing an opportunity for affected American industries to seek remedies for currency misalignment, and by creating incentives for foreign governments to cease unfair trade practices.''
Earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., and vice-chairman of the Steel Caucus, warned that ''more must be done to ensure that American steelworkers can compete against such (Chinese) government influence.''
That and other warnings seem to have fallen on deaf ears in the White House.
Occasionally, the Obama administration does impose duties to counteract dumping. Both India and Vietnam have been targets because of steel pipe imports that could hurt companies such as V&M Star and IPSCO locally.
But in March, the U.S. Commerce Department reported China was dumping steel vehicle wheels in this country. That is, with help from government subsidies, Chinese firms were selling steel wheels here at less than the cost of production. The market is a big one; last year, China sold $84 million worth of steel wheels here.
Just weeks later, the U.S. International Trade Commission refused to recommend any duties be charged on imports of Chinese wheels to counteract dumping.
ITC officials explained they had decided no U.S. industry was ''materially injured or threatened with injury'' because of Chinese dumping. That came even though the issue was raised by two American companies maintaining they are being harmed by the unfair trade practice.
That reminds us of how late the U.S. decided to impose tariffs on tires for earthmoving, off-road and other industrial vehicles. One local maker of these products, Denman Tire Corp., whose chief technical officer said the tariffs were small and overdue, was already on course for a bankruptcy, causing more than 300 people to lose their jobs.
Not enough is being done to crack down on the cheaters.