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US Commerce appointments needed now for steel import probe: SMA's Bell

New York — Having "good people" in place at the US Commerce Department who can help get the Section 232 import investigation done soon is necessary, Steel Manufacturers Association President Philip Bell said Thursday.

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Bell was responding to an S&P Global Platts report Wednesday in which US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat-New York, said he would put a hold on the Senate floor on two top pending Commerce nominees until the department "provides a satisfactory and meaningful response on the progress of critical investigations that will help protect our upstate steel and aluminum companies."

"There is no question that the steel industry would like to see the administration move faster on its Section 232 investigations," Bell told Platts. "Letting the self-imposed June 30 deadline pass and the subsequent delays in action have contributed to a surge in foreign steel imports. While the intent of putting a hold on the confirmation process is to keep the 232 investigation front and center, the real question is, what is the best way to do this?"

Bell maintained: "Swift confirmation of key Commerce Department nominees, who are highly qualified, have broad steel industry support and can prudently advise the administration should help expedite the 232 process."



Expressing frustration with the administration's failure to resolve two ongoing investigations into the impact of steel and aluminum imports on national security, Schumer had said he would stall the Commerce nominations of Gil Kaplan for undersecretary for international trade and Nazakhtar Nikakhtar for assistant secretary of commerce, industry and analysis.

He described the administration's lack of progress as "a fairy tale of promises, which actually does not live up to a real crackdown on foreign predatory trade practices."

Commerce self-initiated separate 232 investigations into the impact of steel and aluminum imports on national security in April amid much fanfare by the administration and promises of fast findings and subsequent action.

The investigations could result in the introduction of tariffs, duties, quotas or other measures. Such probes can take up to 270 days, but the administration said last spring it was fast-tracking the investigations and expected to release results by June 30.

"We need good people in place who can help get 232 done soon. They should not be forced to sit on the sidelines while the investigation plays out," Bell emphasized.

"SMA members will continue to engage in corporate, trade association and coalition efforts to help move the 232 investigation to a timely conclusion," Bell said, noting that just last week the House Steel Caucus led by representatives Rick Crawford, Republican-Arkansas; Mike Bost, Republican-Illinois; and Pete Visclosky, Democrat-Indiana; sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging prompt action in the Section 232 steel investigation.

"This was a timely move and SMA appreciates the leadership shown by the Steel Caucus," Bell said.

(This version of the story has been updated to correct Crawford's state in the penultimate paragraph.)

--Joe Innace, joseph.innace@spglobal.com
--Edited by Richard Rubin, richard.rubin@spglobal.com