Turnbull’s US steel talks a ‘major benefit’: campaigner

Ian Waters,  a project engineer at Unanderra’s K&R Fabrications.
Ian Waters, a project engineer at Unanderra’s K&R Fabrications.

An Illawarra steel campaigner has praised the Turnbull government for its “unique effort” to secure a US import tariff exemption for Australian steel. 

The country’s steel and aluminium products are set to be exempt from harsh import tariffs after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann recently lobbied US President Donald Trump, on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg.

BlueScope, which exports between 200,000 tonnes and 300,000 tonnes of hot rolled coil to the US annually, has said it would await confirmation from Mr Trump’s administration before it celebrates – or comments on – the planned exemption.

However, steel fabricator Ian Waters has dubbed the talks “excellent work”, amid the potential for Port Kembla-produced steel being exported into the US tariff-free.

In an email to the PM, Mr Waters said it made “perfect sense” to export a higher value product – finished steel that’s had value-added using Australian workers and technology – rather than exporting a parcel of iron ore. 

“Yours is a unique effort for a modern Australian government because it is likely to cost taxpayers nothing – but give the nation a major benefit,” Mr Waters, a project engineer at Unanderra’s K&R Fabrications, wrote.

“[You] don’t see many decisions like that from governments, that’s for sure.

“The positive ramifications are far reaching and will trickle through to diverse industries such as sawmills, limestone quarries, coal mines, transport companies and engineering companies who support our steelmakers.”

Mr Waters said a “healthy steel industry” meant “there might be valuable apprenticeships available for our kids or grandchildren or perhaps a job for them as a metallurgist, chemist or engineer”. 

“Amongst the current climate of anti-US rhetoric in Australia it should also give many industries outside of aluminium and steel, such as agriculture, great confidence that the US sees our country as a friend and is prepared to work with us,” he said.

BlueScope has been vocal about steel dumping, particularly from China.

Mr Turnbull and Senator Cormann argued for exemptions for Australia from any and all trade sanctions Mr Trump may impose, steel and aluminium included.

They argued in a meeting with US officials on Saturday that ongoing overproduction and dumping by China were the cause of Mr Trump's concerns.   – with Phillip Coorey