U.S. steel executives appeal directly to Trump for import restrictions

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American steel industry executives have appealed directly to President Donald Trump for immediate import restrictions in a letter seen by Reuters, as a U.S. Commerce Department steel national security probe languishes and steel imports surge back to 2015 levels.

Senior executives from 25 U.S. steel and steel-related companies sent the letter to Trump late on Wednesday saying the industry was suffering the consequences of government inaction but this could change with his "bold leadership" and "America First" vision.

"The need for action is urgent. Since the 232 investigation was announced in April, imports have continued to surge," the executives said in the letter.

"Immediate action must meaningfully adjust imports to restore healthy levels of capacity utilization and profitability to the domestic industry over a sustained period," they wrote.

The Commerce Department has delayed the release of its recommendations from a "Section 232" investigation into whether steel imports pose a threat to national security, which could lead to Trump imposing broad quotas or tariffs on steel imports.

The American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), an industry trade group, on Wednesday reported that total steel imports through July this year were up 22 percent from the same period a year ago, with imports taking 28 percent of the U.S. market.

Imports captured 30 percent of the U.S. market in June, according to Commerce Department data compiled by the institute. Steel imports dipped briefly last year due to Commerce Department anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties imposed on steel products from China and some other countries.

Wednesday's letter followed last week's departure of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who had been a vocal advocate for steel tariffs and other trade protections in the administration's internal debates over trade.

The executives from companies including Nucor Corp U.S. Steel, ArcelorMittal and DTE Energy said the sustained surge of steel imports into the United States had "hollowed out" much of the domestic steel industry and was threatening its ability to meet national security needs.

"Your leadership in finding a solution to the crisis facing the steel industry is badly needed now. Only you can authorize actions that can solve this crisis and we are asking for your immediate assistance," they wrote.

Under the Cold War-era law authorizing the steel national security probe, Trump would have 90 days to act once the Commerce Department submits its probe.

AISI president Tom Gibson, who also signed the letter, told Reuters the industry was trying to keep the issue "front and center" while Trump administration officials deal with a lot of other issues from North Korea to fiscal policy.

He said that domestic steel producers' capacity utilization rate is hovering around 75 percent, as steelmakers from South Korea to Turkey target U.S. demand to soak up their excess output.

"Over the long term, that is not a sustainable level," Gibson said.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Tom Brown)