Steel has once again become a big issue in U.S. trade policy. Many steel companies around the Midwest are worried about ‘steel dumping’ and are urging President Bush to support new tariffs and quotas on imported steel. But some steel users say the Bush Administration should back off. How the President handles the issue could affect both jobs and the environment in the region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:


Steel has once again become a big issue in United States trade policy. Many steel companies around the Midwest are worried about steel dumping and are urging President Bush to support new tariffs and quotas on imported steel. But some steel users say the Bush administration should back off. How the president handles the issue could affect both jobs and the environment in the Great Lakes region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports.

The amount of commonly used types of foreign steel coming into the United States has risen about a third over the last five years, and a federal trade panel ruled recently that much of that imported steel is being sold here at a price lower than what it cost to make it and ship it here. That’s a practice called dumping. The trade panel found that such dumping poses a serious threat to domestic steel makers. So the panel says President Bush should slap tariffs on many product lines of foreign-made steel to raise the prices of the imports. But that’s not such a hot idea to some other industries, which use plenty of foreign steel.

(furnace/factory ambient sound)

Here at the Engel Tool and Forge Company in Milwaukee…this second-generation family business now uses about 600 tons a year of steel imported from countries like Brazil and Sweden. In the warm and grimy forging area, workers use a robot to move five foot long steel bars that have been heated to 2100 degrees Fahrenheit. Owner chuck Engel watches the orange and white-hot bars enter a machine

“That’s a preforming press …a hydraulic press that preforms the metal. It’s removed from there and moved into a finished form that we gain our finished desired shape.” (WHAM noise)

The bars are scrunched into wheel axles that’ll be shipped to heavy equipment makers in the mining or construction industries. Engel says his company is doing all right during the recession. So he’s says he strongly opposed to the president possibly tinkering with that success by slapping higher tariffs on imported steel.

“I am sure there is a certain amount of unfairness on both sides of the fence but I believe that competition should be what sorts this problem out rather than the government.”

Engel contends domestic steel makers got quote- fat and sassy — over the last twenty years…and he says mergers, downsizing and other changes now taking place among domestic manufacturers will help them compete in the world steel market. Engel says if steel tariffs do go up…he’d have to pass along the price hikes. But other players are urging President Bush to approve higher steel tariffs. The United Steelworkers of America hopes the president even goes beyond what the trade panel recommends. Some environmentalists are also quietly supporting the domestic steel industry. That’s even though green groups have a track record of battling steel manufacturers. Cameron Davis of the Chicago-based lake Michigan federation acknowledges big steel has a dirty history in the area.

“Well traditionally, the steel industry especially in northwest Indiana has been responsible for a fair amount of pollution in the Great Lakes…and that’s air-based pollution, water based pollution, land based pollution across the board.”

But lately environmentalists have been trying to forge alliances with unions like the steelworkers. And Davis notes that environmental lawsuits and other changes have gotten domestic steel makers to start cleaning up their act in recent years. He says if nothing is done to slow the rise in steel imports that could make the United States environment worse. Davis cites the aquatic nuisance species that tag along in the ballast water of foreign ships…including presumably, the ships that bring in foreign steel.

“Without some help in protecting the GL steel industry, we’ll see more and more foreign steel coming into the country. And with that foreign steel probably more aquatic nuisance species that will do more damage not only to the Great Lakes but to rest of country.”

United States flagged Great Lakes shipping companies that haul iron ore from Minnesota and northern Michigan are also siding with the domestic steel makers. George Ryan is president of the Lake Carriers Association. He says if the domestic steel industry keeps getting hurt by foreign imports…there might be some local improvements like less air pollution emitted over Gary or Cleveland, but Ryan says, what about the rest of the globe.

“For anyone who has seen photographs from outer space, we have one world that moves the air around to all parts of the world we can’t really say we condone dirty air in Brazil and in China and okay to do it there cause we’re protecting our air in the United States.”

Ryan is a member of the Great Lakes Commission…which is urging the president and congress to boost steel exports and reduce unfair competition from abroad. Commissioners do the bidding of eight Great Lakes governors…most of whom are republicans like George W. Bush. If the president does not do more to protect United States steel makers and jobs that could be an issue in the gubernatorial and congressional elections next November. Mr. Bush has to announce his plans on steel tariffs and quotas by mid-February. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium this is Chuck Quirmbach in Milwaukee.

Agri-Chemical Merger Stirs GMO Debate

A corporate merger between two large agri-chemical companies
will create the world’s largest pesticide manufacturer. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports… some environmentalists are
concerned the new company’s approach will mean more pesticide use:


A corporate merger between two large agri-chemical companies will create the world’s largest

pesticide manufacturer. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports some

environmentalists are concerned the new company’s approach will mean pore pesticide use:

The chemical and agriculture companies Novartis and Astra-Zeneca are in the process of merging

their agriculture divisions. The new company, Syngenta, will go its own way sometime in 2000.

Syngenta will be the world’s largest pesticide producer, and the third largest producer of

genetically modified seeds. Some environmentalists are concerned about the merger. Lori Mott is

with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Well, it’s a potentially dangerous mix because one of the areas where genetically modified

organisms are being developed is to make them pesticide resistant. So, you could have the largest

seller of pesticides also making the seeds that are resistant to the very pesticides that they

sell and the end result would be excessive use of pesticides – as if we don’t already have that –

out in the environment with severe environmental consequences.”

Mott says the new company will likely focus on creating herbicides and design genes to make crops

resistant to them. She says that will encourage farmers to use pesticides even more because they

know it won’t harm their crops. Astra-Zeneca already has a pesticide and pesticide-resistant crop

seed package. Novartis is working on one. Both of those product packages will now be part of the

Syngenta line. Other companies such as Monsanto and DuPont also have genetically modified crops

resistant to their respective pesticides.

A financial analyst says it’s possible the merger might mean less use of certain pesticides. One

of the companies involved in the merger, Novartis, manufactures atrazine. It’s the herbicide most

used on crops in the Midwest. Atrazine has developed negative reputation because drinking water in

some lakes and wells has been contaminated by the herbicide.

Alexander Hittle is an analyst with A.G. Edwards and Sons. Hittle says if Syngenta pushes an

herbicide and genetically-altered crop package, it might mean atrazine is used less.

“Atrazine sales are actually really being in part driven by resistance to genetically modified

crops. Either way, the farmers are going to be using pesticides, herbicides. Is the herbicide

being used in one of these seed combinations more or less benign than an herbicide that would be

used under so-called conventional farming. And, I think that’s the way, in terms of the

environment, the question needs to be posed.”

Because some of the new generation herbicides break down faster, they don’t have the same

reputation for contamination problems atrazine does.

Pesticides aren’t the only thing about the merger worrying environmentalists and others. Until

recently, genetically modified crops were more or less ignored by the American public. But,

because of food safety and environmental concerns, some people are becoming wary of the

bio-engineered plants. Public opinion might shift again in the near future. Hittle says so far,

the traits of the genetically engineered crops have only benefited farmers and the ag-chemical

companies. If consumers see a direct benefit, he thinks they’ll be more accepting.

“Down the road what’s coming are crops that have improved nutritional profiles, so that you’ll

begin to see benefits to consumers and that’s probably where the tide will turn. And, Novartis,

Astra-Zeneca both have pretty strong research capabilities and that should play into those sorts

of products.”

Farmers will be watching for the new products and the whims of the market as public opinion about

genetically modified food evolves. Don Parrish is with the American Farm Bureau. He agrees that

people eventually will accept the new technology.

“But, I guess as consumers see the benefits of what it could mean more lean, tender products, more

nutritious products, you know, I just have a hard time believing that people won’t believe in

good, sound science and won’t ultimately allow that to dictate what is safe for the marketplace.”

The Farm Bureau adds… genetically altered crops will be necessary to feed the world’s growing


Environmentalists say advances in food production should not come at the expense of environmental

damage. The NRDC’s Lori Mott says the Astra-Zeneca and Novartis ag divisions’ merger rushes

headlong into a genetically-altered future that might have serious consequences.

“I think the whole issue of genetically modified organisms is a dicey one. We are changing the

scale of evolution…”

One interesting twist of the Syngenta merger: Novartis will be keeping its baby food line, Gerber

Foods. This past year, Gerber declared it would not allow genetically modified crops into its baby

food – something of a contradiction inside a corporation that has touted the safety of genetically

modified foods. Novartis will keep Gerber, and spin off its genetically modified foods section to

the new company, Syngenta.

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.