Ohio U.S. senators, Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Rob Portman, are urging the federal Department of Commerce to step up an investigation into foreign steel imports.
Earlier this year, the agency opened an investigation into whether countries such as China and Russia were flooding the U.S. steel market with low-cost imports.
The investigation has reportedly stalled. And the Ohio lawmakers say low-cost imported steel is undercutting U.S. producers' profits.
If the Commerce Department investigation resumes, and ultimately proves that theory true, one possible suggestion would be for the federal government to limit foreign imports, allowing U.S. producers to claim a higher price for their steel.
But limiting imports may not help American producers, some analysts say.
Any trade limits placed on foreign imports could actually hurt U.S. manufacturers, says Benjamin Steel Vice President Dan Kelly. He says there are a lot of complex factors affecting global commodities such as steel.
”Most companies now, to some degree or another, who are manufacturing something, are truly competing in a world market, even in Springfield, Ohio. So, if the cost of the raw material gets too high, that manufacturer isn’t going to be able to compete, and in the end that hurts all of us.”
Benjamin Steel is headquartered in Springfield, Ohio, with four facilities and more than 150 employees.
Kelly says American producers can’t compete when it comes to certain grades of steel because of low-cost imports.
As a result, he says many U.S. steel producers have dropped out of the competition for supplying those grades. He also acknowledges that it could become a national security issue if defense-industry demand for those grades of steel goes up for any reason.
National security is a top cause for concern when it comes to foreign imports of steel, according to retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. John Adams. Adams works as a consultant, analyst and advocate with Guardian Six, LLC., a firm based in Washington D.C. and Florida.
Adams also currently works with the Alliance for American Manufacturing and has testified before Congress on the issue of foreign steel. He says, with China owning 50 percent of the global steel market, American producers can't survive.
"It's unacceptable for us to lose the ability to make steel for our weapons systems," he says.
Adams participated in a national security hearing, known as Section 232, in May. He was one of nearly 40 national and international experts to testify before the Department of Commerce and Secretary Wilbur Ross on the impact of steel imports.
Capacity in steel production and manufacturing is a key foundation of the defense industrial base, says Adams.
"Once we lose steel production capacity, it's really hard, if not impossible to rebuild it. And it's not just the plants, it's not just the production. It's the skilled workers, it's the loss of the research and development. Those are the things that are absolutely critical to preserve."
Following the Section 232 hearings, Ross from the Department of Commerce said the agency would review the testimony and issue a report in 270 days, or roughly sometime in January of 2018.