The crisis facing the U.S. steel industry

A surge in unfairly traded imports hurts the U.S. steel industry, Thomas J. Gibson and Chuck Schmitt say.

Story highlights

  • If steel industry is to survive, U.S. must act to reduce global overcapacity, authors say
  • American companies that play by the rules can't win at rigged game, they say

Thomas J. Gibson is president and CEO of the American Iron and Steel Institute. Chuck Schmitt is president of SSAB Americas and chairman of the American Iron and Steel Institute's board of directors. The views expressed are their own.

(CNN)As the backbone of American manufacturing, the steel industry is essential to the world's water and food supply, energy generation and national security. The U.S. military uses steel extensively, ranging from aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines to missiles, armor plate for tanks and every major military aircraft in production. There are a lot of reasons to take pride in American steel.

But today, our steel industry is being hurt by an unprecedented surge in unfairly traded imports, with record amounts of foreign-produced steel flooding into the United States. Cheap, subsidized foreign imports are taking steel jobs away.
In 2015, almost one in three tons of steel sold in the United States was produced outside the country. The import crisis is now beginning to get the national attention it deserves. The crisis has become the topic of presidential debates, candidate interviews and stump speeches. And it's about time.
    Thomas J. Gibson
    Steel supports hundreds of thousands of American jobs. But because of these unfairly traded imports, many American steel producers have had to make difficult decisions affecting steelmaking communities. Steel companies have closed down major facilities, or reduced production at those plants, resulting in devastating layoffs and job losses for many families who have made steel for generations. More than 12,000 steel jobs have been lost in the past year, as imports took a record 29% of the U.S. market.
    At the same time, U.S. steel production has continued to decline. Domestic shipments for 2015 stood at nearly 87 million tons, a nearly 12% decrease over what American steel mills shipped in 2014.
    Chuck Schmitt
    Many presidential candidates are realizing that global overcapacity of steel -- in part due to massive subsidization by foreign governments -- is a huge problem and a chief contributor to the crisis the American steel industry faces. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that there are about 700 million metric tons of excess steel capacity globally today.
    China's government-owned and -supported steel industry represents almost half of the world's steelmaking and more than half of the world's overcapacity. Between 2000 and 2014, Chinese steel production increased a whopping 540%, while U.S. production declined 13%. As has been said by one steel company CEO in testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, the Chinese government is a company disguised as a country.
    The Chinese government recently set a goal to cut steel excess capacity by between about