Reaction mixed among area steel-related firms

Posted: March 06, 2002

The Bush administration's decision to put tariffs on steel imports sparked hope at the region's steelmakers, but it had the opposite effect on Delaware River port officials and some manufacturers.

"The tariffs will help bring us out of the worst depression the steel market has ever seen," Robert S. Miller, Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s chief executive officer, said yesterday. Bethlehem employs about 1,500 people in Coatesville and Conshohocken.

The tariffs also will aid Reading's Carpenter Technology Corp. The company's chief executive officer, Dennis Draeger, said the 15 percent tariffs on stainless-steel rods and bars would not translate directly into a 15 percent price increase for its customers.

"We have to price our product competitively so they can stay in business," he said.

The tariffs of up to 30 percent do not guarantee a healthy future for much of the U.S. steel industry because they do not directly help the companies pay the health-care benefits for about 600,000 retirees and their dependents.

For manufacturers that use steel and already have a tough time competing with foreign-made goods, the tariffs are hard to take.

Those manufacturers say they should not have to pay for inefficiencies in the domestic steel business. Several area steel customers said they did not want to be quoted about the tariff issue. Few want to come across as anti-American on steel issues.

But David Sandy, a vice president at M.S. Willett Co., a Cockeysville, Md., manufacturer, did not hesitate with his reaction.

"We are going to feel the impact, and we are going to pay the price for what they have done to help the steel industry," said Sandy, whose company's biggest customers are Harley-Davidson Inc. and Black & Decker Corp. Willett employs 120 people at its factory.

"I can understand the need to help the steel industry. I don't think this is the way to do it."

But Robert A. Cantor, president of Insinger Machine Co., which makes commercial dishwashers in Philadelphia, said the tariffs' effect on his company would be limited, because stainless steel is just one component in Insinger's machines.

Delaware River port officials, who lobbied hard against tariffs, said they expected a big loss in business. Imported steel is one of the biggest commodities handled by terminals on the river.

"Needless to say, I'm very disappointed," said Robert Palaima, president of Delaware River Stevedores. "I thought the administration was committed to a free-trade philosophy. This flies in the face of it."

Dennis Rochford, president of the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River and Bay, said the highest tariffs were on products that came up the Delaware in significant numbers.

"These are all very substantial tariffs in terms of the impact that can have on the level of imports."

Contact Harold Brubaker at 215-854-4651 or

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