The global steel industry needs to present a unified voice in international trade discussions to promote free trade, delegates were told at Eurometal’s International Steel Trade Day in Frankfurt on Thursday November 13.
“We have to make the case for free trade every day, and it’s a very difficult thing to do,” Richard Chriss, executive director of the American Institute for International Steel Trade (AIIS), told delegates.
Quoting the economist Milton Friedman, he said the benefits of free trade are “diffuse and non-transparent”, which is why more work is required and immediate results are difficult to achieve.
Major challenges for the steel industry lie in the difficulties of trade policy leadership and global institutional incapacity, Chriss said.
While trade remedy laws are not devoid of political interests, the steel sector must argue against unwarranted trade restrictions by doing a better job in explaining how comprehensive the steel supply chain is, including the role of logistics providers, and by highlighting the significance of value-added steel trade.
The sector must also engage in more advocacy at national and international forums, including the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Chriss said.
Steel is “behind the curve” in global trade discussions, compared with the well-organised efforts for other economic areas, such as agriculture, technology and services, he added.
But the steel industry is not to blame for trade measures that hamper worldwide logistical and economic development, Chriss said, citing three troubling instances of global institutional incapacity: the inability of the G7 system to address complex economic developments; the breakdown of the WTO Doha trade discussion rounds; and the impasse in implementing the WTO trade facilitation agreement, which would help streamline border procedures and automate trade and customs proceedings.
He said the inability to reach consensus is a systemic threat to the future of the WTO, but whatever the fate of the Doha round, trade facilitation is increasingly important.
“[It] must be a significant focus of our own industry,” Chriss added. “We must find opportunities to be part of this process, to get a seat at the table and get our voice heard.”
Nina Nasman, Steel First