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The American steel industry has reason to breathe a sigh of relief after President Barak Obama signed two pieces of trade legislation Monday. The laws will help open new markets and protect the domestic steel industry from illegal imports, say industry insiders.

Obama signed both the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act and the Trade Preferences Extension Act. The former gives the president authority to fast-track passage of trade agreements.

Fast track refers to temporary powers given by Congress to the President of the United States to negotiate trade agreements on which Congress can only vote up or down. Congress relinquishes the power to amend or filibuster the agreement. This power would give the president more leverage in passing future trade agreements that would favor the steel industry.

The Trade Preferences Extension Act gives new teeth to anti-dumping and countervailing investigations. Platts McGraw Hill Financial, a global leader in providing information about the metals industry, reported that Tom Gibson, president of the American Iron and Steel Institute, applauded the legislation.

“We thank the administration for recognizing the critical role of the steel industry by supporting these initiatives to improve the effectiveness of our antidumping and countervailing duty laws,” Gibson stated. “We greatly appreciate having these improved tools at our disposal in our continuing efforts to combat unfair trade, given the trade laws have not been updated by Congress in over 20 years.”

The Northwest Indiana Times reported that U.S. Steel President and CEO Mario Longhi also approved Obama’s decision to sign the legislation. “I commend President Obama for strengthening our trade enforcement laws by signing Trade Promotion Authority and Trade Adjustment Assistance,” Longhi stated. “This legislation will open new markets for American goods and services, but also clarifies the injury standard in dumping and countervailing duties cases to better protect our workers and companies from the harm of unfairly traded products.”

Imports jumped by 38 percent last year, approximately one third of the steel market, prompting the steel industry to lobby for stricter enforcement measures. The influx of heavily discounted foreign steel, due in large part to currency manipulation and illegal government subsidies, put the American Steel industry at a competitive disadvantage. Industry insiders see this legislation as leveling the playing field.

The President of the United Steel Workers Union, Leo Gerard, blogged last week against the passage of presidential fast-track trade authority. He stated that “The majority abdicated Congress’ constitutional responsibility to supervise international trade. Instead, they agreed to allow presidential administrations to once again negotiate trade deals in secret, then whip those corporate-appeasing, clandestine schemes through the Congressional approval process with absolutely no amendments, no changes, no improvements.”

The Steel Workers Unions are concerned that corporate interests will prevail over worker’s rights with the passage of fast-track authority. Gerard stated, referring to Congress’ recent action on trade legislation as the “same tired old broken-down trade tactics that have closed American factories, cost American jobs and caused massive trade deficits.” Gerard has not specifically commented on the legislation signed Monday.