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How AK Steel helped to shape the Trump administration's new tariff policy

CEO: I'm 'pleased with the approach that he took'
Posted: 4:22 PM, Mar 09, 2018
Updated: 2018-03-09 18:22:47-05

CINCINNATI - AK Steel Holding Corp. CEO Roger Newport says he got what he wanted from President Donald Trump’s new tariff order on Thursday, but that doesn’t mean steel workers should be lining up for a new shift at the company’s idled plant in Ashland, Kentucky.

“First we want to utilize all the capacity we have,” Newport said. “We have capacity to produce more steel with our existing assets.”

Spokeswoman Lisa Jester later clarified that the West Chester-based company “will do what’s needed to meet demand” and is “currently hiring at most of our facilities.” It has 50 job openings at its Middletown Works, she added.

AK Steel actively lobbied for the White House plan to impose taxes on foreign metals – 25 percent for steel and 10 percent for aluminum. When the details were finally released Thursday, they included exemptions for Mexico and Canada, along with rules that enable the president to spare other countries on the basis of national security.

That caused investors to punish the stocks of U.S. steel makers, AK Steel included. Its shares are down 4.4 percent to $5.21 cents since yesterday’s close.

But Newport said the new tariff structure will leave the U.S. better equipped to combat the dumping of excess steel capacity on the global market.

“We feel very confident that the approach he’s taking … will actually help resolve the underlying issues,” he said. “We have filed many trade cases and been successful on (claims before the World Trade Organization). And many countries basically figured out how to circumvent around those trade laws, as I call it, ‘Cheat the trade laws.’ So, they know how to beat our system.”

AK Steel worked extensively with the Department of Commerce and members of Congress. Newport even visited the White House to explain “the underlying situation” it faces as the last U.S. producer of “grain-oriented electrical steel.” It’s a specialty product with magnetic qualities that make it useful for transformers and other components in the nation’s electrical grid system.

Newport said he wanted to make sure the new tariff structure gives the White House enough flexibility to punish those who try to game the systems and reward those who don’t.

“We want a fair and level playing field,” he said. “That’s really what the focus is.”