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Our view: Still no solution to steel dumping?

This Iron Range-crippling problem of low-priced, foreign-made steel being dumped illegally into U.S. markets isn’t anything new. The News Tribune first used the term “steel dumping” in 1998 when reporting on the “tidal wave of unfairly priced, dumped and subsidized steel products from economically distressed nations.”

That’s nearly 20 years — almost two decades — of complaining about, or at least drawing attention to, a problem we’re still trying to figure out, and with little success.

A fresh surge of efforts to neutralize steel dumping came too late, unfortunately, to head off this year’s crush of plant closings and shutdowns across Northeastern Minnesota and more than 1,400 layoffs. The recent efforts, in fact, all seemed to come in response to the sudden and unexpected economic crisis.

Whether they should have come sooner, the efforts now — led by Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and Rep. Rick Nolan, and including a request for a meeting with the president — deserve serious consideration. And decisive action. Whether it comes from the Iron Range or D.C., a solution is almost literally decades overdue.

In November, Klobuchar and Franken introduced the Trade Enforcement Improvement Act, which would enforce trade laws by increasing duties and by exposing duty evaders so they can be dealt with.

Also in November, Nolan said he’d introduce a bill to ban all steel imports for five years, “so our domestic industry will have time to return to 100 percent of production capacity — and so thousands of American workers who have lost their jobs in our mining, iron ore and steel industries can return to work as quickly as possible.”

The measures sound promising, and it is encouraging any solutions are being presented. But, frustratingly, they may not go anywhere. Similar bills have failed in Washington over the years even as imported steel continues to be sold below cost due to subsidies by foreign governments. Such subsidies are in violation of international trade laws. But the violations are hard to prove — and even harder to enforce; trade cases can take months and even years to reach resolutions.

Illegal dumping kills jobs on the Iron Range, where iron ore is mined, and in U.S. steel mill towns, where the ore is made into steel, because it lowers demand for U.S.-made steel. Right now foreign-made steel accounts for more than a third of all the steel being used in the U.S., as the News Tribune reported. That’s the highest level on record, according to Nolan. American steel mill production has dropped to just 70 percent of capacity — and it may dip even lower.

“Once and for all, it’s time for this Congress and this administration to stand up for American workers and American jobs — jobs being destroyed and stolen due to illegal steel dumping by China, India and other southeast Asian nations,” Nolan said in a statement on Nov. 23. “The United States has proven itself incapable of enforcing trade agreements — and incapable of stopping illegal dumping of foreign steel once it reaches our shores.”

Incapable at least since 1998.

So, a solution, “once and for all?” Yes, please. That has to be made quite clear if Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, Klobuchar, Franken, Nolan and state Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk succeed in arranging a meeting with President Barack Obama. Clearer than it was made last month when Klobuchar, Franken, Nolan and Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith met at the White house with members of the Obama administration.

A solution, after all, is almost literally decades overdue.

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