American Metal Market held its Third Annual Steel Tube & Pipe Conference March 22-23 in Houston, and if you’re a steel tube or pipe producer, you might give some thought to attending its fourth annual conference. It held something for everyone—industry overview, industry forecast, and a chance to network with many executives in the tube and pipe industry. While the presentations themselves were firmly rooted in statistics, facts, and sincere predictions, I couldn’t help but notice that two of the speakers threw the spotlight onto two sources of … how can I say it diplomatically? Nonfactual information? Information at variance with the truth? Outright lies? You pick one.
First, a little background. Much of the conference dealt with oil country tubular goods (OCTG), especially imports, especially imports from China. The common views of China—that it’s guilty of subsidizing its manufacturing sector and dumping products on foreign markets—certainly are rooted in fact. A few bits of key data, plucked from back issues of the Preston Pipe & Tube Report, back up these views and illustrate the struggles of domestic OCTG manufacturers. I picked a month at random (September 2006) and found that imports comprised 146,000 net tons; in September 2008, import shipments were up to 478,000 net tons. Antidumping and countervailing duties imposed by the Dept. of Commerce, mainly against Chinese producers, reduced import penetration to 33,000 net tons in September 2009.
At AMM’s conference, trade attorney Roger Schagrin pointed out that we don’t really know how much of this material came from China. He cited Hanhen Shipping’s Web site, which openly states that it provides Triangular Trade, a service in which it ships goods from the country of origin to an intermediate country, changes the product markings to conceal the country of origin, and ships the goods to the final destination. In short, the company offers lies. It’s hard to find anything more blatantly deceitful, and illegal, in international trade than a company that offers, and openly advertises, this service. Madness.
The other big lie? The notion of energy independence. I am slightly irritated every time a professional liar (a politician) states that we need to break the U.S.’s dependence on foreign oil. It makes a good sound bite, but it’s sheer nonsense to suggest it; anyone who can read knows that the U.S. will never be free from foreign oil (until it runs out) and any politician who claims otherwise is a pandering liar. In 1975 we imported 6 million barrels of oil per day; in 2005 we imported more than 13 million barrels per day. The Energy Information Administration readily provides this data. It’s true that the current administration recently expanded offshore drilling, which will help our situation, but nothing will solve it. German Cura, managing director of North America for Tenaris, offhandedly described our dependence on foreign energy with just five words: “This is not going away.”
That’s a bit of truth phrased so simply that I bet even a politician could understand it.
Metal fabricators aren't known to take a lot of time away from the shop, but sometimes they need to break away from the daily grind to think more strategically about the business. The FABRICATOR's Leadership Summit at the FMA annual meeting in New Orleans, March 8-10, is just the place where these metal fabricators need to be.
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