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Steelworkers Rally Against Unfair Foreign Trade

(Flickr/Paul Sable)

The price of steel pipes and tubes are at the center of a rally in Granite City Friday afternoon.

It's one of six rallies planned around the U.S. this spring. The goal is to bring attention to what steelworkers and steel companies say are unfair trade practices by companies in nine countries.

The products are Oil Country Tubular Goods, used in natural gas and oil exploration, an industry that has boomed in the U.S. in recent years.

"Based on the evidence it appears companies in other countries are wanting to take advantage of that demand," said Dave Dowling, the director of the southern Illinois district of the United Steelworkers union. "We have no problem with them competing for market share, as long as they’re competing fairly."

The U.S. Steel Corporation was among several steel companies that petitioned the Department of Commerce last year with charges that companies in nine countries are selling pipe and tubes in the U.S. below fair market value and that they're using subsidies from their governments to undercut the prices.

In a preliminary finding the Department of Commerce found that companies in only eight countries --Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, and Vietnam -- were violating trade laws. The department did not include South Korea on the list.

Illinois Congressman Bill Enyart, a Democrat, said South Korea is the worst offender, accounting for 50 percent of the product brought in under market value.

"They’ve set up an interlocking web of companies to disguise the true cost and true ownership and true margins in the business," Enyart said. "There’s really no market in South Korea at all for this piping."

Enyart planned to attend the rally, along with Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer, and representatives of the U.S. Steelworkers, the Alliance for American Manufacturing, and the U.S. Steel Corporation.

The concern for politicians is the impact such sales could have on U.S. jobs. Enyart said there are 500,000 steelworkers in the U.S., with more than 28,000 in Illinois.

Dowling of the United Steelworkers said the risk is real.

"Over time it could result in layoffs, loss of jobs, and possible bankruptcy and shutdown of some facilities, so the stakes are very high," Dowling said.

The Department of Commerce is expected to make a final determination July 11.

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.