OTTAWA - Parliament must reform trade laws to counter steel dumping by Chinese mills, union and industry executives yesterday told the Commons trade committee. Weak legislation has made Canada vulnerable to shipments from state-owned China producers, officials said.
“We have great mills, we have great workforces, we are state of the art,” said Ken Neumann, United Steelworkers national director for Canada; “Why in this country still today, why are we building a bridge in Montréal with foreign steel?”
Neumann said the Special Imports Measures Act should be amended to permit unions to file unfair trade complaints, similar to legislation in the U.S. and Australia. “This reform is essential to the ability to compete fairly against international producers within the Canadian market,” said Neumann.
“We should be looking in Canada to buy Canadian,” said Neumann. “That is something that makes a lot of sense.”
“Canadian producers can thrive in an open, international marketplace,” said Joseph Galimberti, president of the Canadian Steel Producers Association. “We cannot compete with the government of the People’s Republic of China.”
Galimberti said the Canada Border Services Agency has limited ability to track dumped steel transshipped to the U.S. market, and no legislative powers to jail traders who thwart anti-dumping laws. “We have to be very, very careful about being perceived as a back door for dumped and subsidized product,” said Galimberti.
MPs have noted even major public works in Canada are using imported steel. Canadian-made product accounts for only 19 percent of steel used in construction of the $4 billion Champlain Bridge at Montréal, by official estimate.
The trade committee was told Chinese steel mills are able to ship cheap product worldwide with the benefit of low-interest government loans, cash grants, land use and utility subsidies and currency manipulation.
“Of the 11 largest steel companies in Asia, eight of them are state-owned,” said Neumann. “That speaks for itself.”
One steel distributor, Amalgamated Trading Ltd. of Langley, B.C., said Chinese imports are so inexpensive it is cheaper to ship product across the Pacific than buy Canadian steel manufactured in Ontario. “It is fifty percent cheaper,” said William Miller, CEO.
“When we import steel into Western Canada we’re paying a freight charge from Asia to Vancouver of $45 to $50 per metric tonne,” said Miller. “When we bring it from Ontario to Western Canada we are paying $120 per metric tonne – that’s rail. If we bring it by truck we pay $180 to $200 per tonne.”
“It’s important that we have the laws to protect Canadian steel producers, and I think those laws are very effective; I think our trade department is very quick and effective,” said Miller. “But I also believe this is Eastern Canadian protectionism.”
The trade committee is scheduling two additional hearings on Chinese trade practices in steel. “I don’t know if we have a steel strategy here in Canada,” said Liberal MP Peter Fonseca (Mississauga East-Cooksville, Ont.).