Local Manufacturers, Representatives Offer Mixed Views On Steel Tariffs

Mar 9, 2018

President Donald Trump is applauded by steel and aluminum industry executives.
Credit Shealah Craighead/ White House

Steel producers employ about 6,000 people in the Carolinas. There are also many more companies that make products with steel.  President Trump said Thursday afternoon that he would be putting a 25 percent tax on foreign steel and a 10 percent on aluminum. 

All of this is making H.O. Woltz III feel uncertain. He is the chief executive of Insteel Industries based in Mount Airy, which makes steel wire used in the construction of bridges and buildings. It has around 1,000 employees across ten plants in the U.S.

Woltz said the tariff is going to hurt his business by raising the cost of his raw material. The question is how much.

“It would be helpful for the administration to hang the detail on this program so we know how to respond best for customers and employees," he said. 

Woltz said he imports about one-fifth of his steel. With these tariffs, he expects the price of both foreign and domestic steel to go up. The president’s action only affects raw steel and aluminum - it doesn’t impact products made with foreign steel and imported here. Woltz said that will hurt his company.

“The administration created a distinct cost advantage for overseas competitors, relative to us producers," he said.  "I really don’t understand how that is at all attractive to this administration," 

The chief executive of Charlotte-based steel producer Nucor Corporation, John Ferriola, thanked the president for taking this action. He said in a statement that for years the company has been dealing with foreign countries dumping cheap steel in the United States and this tariff signals that such a practice will no longer be tolerated.

The North Carolina congressional delegation was split on the issue. Senator Thom Tillis said any response to "bad actors" needs to be methodical, so it doesn’t push away America’s allies.

"While I’m supportive of punishing bad actors who abuse trade policy, our response needs to be methodical and surgical so we aren’t inadvertently punishing America’s allies and sparking retaliatory tariffs that could slow down our economic momentum,” Tillis said in a statement.

Representative Mark Meadows, a Republican of western North Carolina and chair of the Freedom Caucus, said he is glad to see that Canada and Mexico are excluded from the tariffs. U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Charlotte-area Republican, said he supported the president's decision.

"We are already in a trade war and we are losing, with a $566 billion global trade deficit, over $375 billion to China alone," Pittenger said in a statement. "President Trump is smart enough to do something about it."

Pittenger added, "Yes, we need free trade, but hardworking Americans also deserve fair trade. That’s the goal."

President Trump said the tariffs will go into effect in 15 days.