Missouri manufacturers join call for Biden to lift Trump aluminum, steel tariffs

U.S. manufacturers report demand is up and with the nation poised to invest billions in the coming years on infrastructure, prospects are good for continued growth, including in Missouri where manufacturing employs 10% of the state’s workforce and contributes nearly $41 billion annually to local economies.

But significant supply chain disruptions persist with U.S. manufacturers hamstrung by six-month waits for aluminum and other raw materials while a boom in automobile and appliance sales spike demand for steel and metals by 35% to 40% on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis.

In a May 6 letter coordinated by the Coalition of American Metal Manufacturers & Users, the National Foreign Trade Council and other steel and aluminum-using U.S. companies, more than 300 American manufacturers – including 15 in Missouri – called on President Joe Biden to lift tariffs imposed on foreign aluminum by former President Donald Trump.

Trump imposed the Section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs in 2018 to protect a domestic steel industry that the nation’s manufacturers maintain is not keeping pace with demand, artificially keeping prices high and potentially throwing an expensive wrench into Biden’s proposed $2.3 billion infrastructure initiative.

“It is businesses manufacturing in America such as ours who pay the tariffs on imports, and it is our businesses and employees who suffer when our product cannot compete with overseas manufacturers because the U.S. is an island of high steel and aluminum prices,” the letter says. “On some products, American businesses pay 40 percent more for similar steel compared to their European counterparts – an unsustainable situation for any U.S. employer.”

The letter maintains standard four- to six-week delivery times for common steel products are now 16-20 weeks “with some products not promised for delivery until 2022,” the letter says, adding, “Reports continue about steel producers idling plants and laying off workers at a time when we face an unprecedented steel shortage.”

According to the Missouri Department of Economic Development (DED), the state’s manufacturing industry contributed $40.74 billion to the state’s economy in 2018.

There were an average of 277,000 manufacturing employees in Missouri in 2019 – about 10% of the state’s total workforce – with an average annual salary of $72,838, the DED reports.

According to a Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED) April 16 update, there were 270,100 Missourians employed by manufacturers last month.

As the pandemic emerged in March 2020, there were 275,700 Missourians employed in manufacturing. By the end of that April, more than 25,000 jobs had been lost with only 250,700 still employed by Missouri manufacturers, FRED documents say.

According to April’s Creighton University Mid-America Business Conditions report, the Midwest region – Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota — has regained more than half the 106,000 manufacturing jobs lost to the pandemic in April 2020.

“Compared to pre-COVID-19 levels, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Missouri manufacturing employment is down 6,800 jobs, or 2.5%, while average hourly manufacturing wages are 0.7% higher,” the report states.

Manufacturers’ letter to Biden maintains lifting the Section 223 tariffs would get more Americans back to work faster and lower costs for the steel America will need for its infrastructure investment plan.

“Without termination of the tariffs, this situation will worsen if Washington moves forward with an infrastructure bill to invest in America, as these projects will create more strain on domestic steel and aluminum supplies, causing delays in construction and risking manufacturing jobs,” the manufacturers wrote.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said last week that the tariffs will remain in place, saying they have “helped save American jobs.”

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