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Commerce chief promotes decision on steel tariffs

| Tuesday, March 19, 2002

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (AP) — U.S. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans on Monday reiterated that President Bush's decision to impose up to 30 percent in steel tariffs is just one piece of a master plan to permanently restructure the steel industry.

Flanked by steel industry executives and labor leaders, Evans said Bush also will push to cut the global steel surplus and end subsidies foreign countries give to their steel producers.

"It's more than just tariffs, it's a comprehensive approach calling the whole world together to say 'We've got to solve this problem once and for all,"' Evans told a crowd at Steubenville High School.

Steubenville, a blue-collar city of about 19,000 people, is home to one Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. factory and is close to four others, in Follansbee, W.Va., and Martins Ferry, Yorkville and Mingo Junction, Ohio. West Virginia's Weirton Steel has a plant across the Ohio River.

About half the high school students in the audience yesterday raised their hands when asked how many have parents in steel-related jobs.

Earlier this month, Bush imposed a three-year package of tariffs and quotas of 8 percent to 30 percent on imported steel, depending upon the type. The plan is aimed at helping the steel industry recover from years of competition with low-priced imports.

"When it comes to free trade, all the president is saying is, 'We're going to play by the rules and we're going to enforce the rules,"' Evans said.

Steel prices are at a 20-year low with more than 30 U.S. steel mills in the last four years facing bankruptcy protection.

Opponents of the tariffs claim that protecting the American steel industry will drive up prices on everything from appliances, cars and homes to lawnmowers and desks. Economists and analysts say the increases likely will range from 0.3 percent to 1 percent in cost.

Evans is on a two-day tour of Midwestern steel communities. He is scheduled to visit a U.S. Steel plant near Pittsburgh on today.

"Once and for all, we're going to fix this steel problem," Evans said. "Once and for all, we're going to get this industry restructured so it can continue to be competitive in the world."

Mark Glyptis, president of the Independent Steelworkers, praised Bush's tariff decision and criticized the Clinton administration for not acting earlier.

"It keeps steel making in the northern Ohio Valley and keeps the industry viable in the country," Glyptis said.

Several students, most hand-picked from an advanced placement program, asked Evans why the tariff decision took so long and what Bush planned to do if the tariffs don't help.

Whitney Henderson, a 17-year-old senior, asked Evans whether U.S. companies that buy cheap, imported steel are part of the problem.

Evans said the companies may not always know where the steel comes from. He said it is important to let the process for filing complaints about illegal steel work.

Henderson said she appreciated Evans' response but still feels companies that buy cheap steel are partly to blame.

Evans also was joined by the presidents of Weirton Steel and Wheeling-Pitt and U.S. Rep. Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican.

Bush's decision on tariffs "created a new spirit of optimism for residents in the Ohio Valley," Ney said.

Steubenville residents had hoped for even higher tariffs but are satisfied something was done, said Reno Saccoccia, the high school's athletic director and football coach.

"Most of the people in the mill feel that every day you stay open is a closer day to victory," said Saccoccia, whose father worked in the Steubenville mill.

Tin mill steel would get a 30 percent tariff, one of the stiffest. That is the type produced by Weirton Steel, which employs about 1,500 Ohioans.

Wheeling-Pitt employs 4,100 at its mills in West Virginia and Ohio.

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