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Today’s Federal Reserve industrial production figures contain data supporting claims that the American domestic steel and aluminum industries face heavy global competitive pressures rooted in predatory trade practices that require vigorous responses.

According to the new data, which update the U.S. manufacturing picture through June on a preliminary basis, inflation-adjusted output for all American factories rose by 0.19 percent month-to-month, and by 1.36 percent year-on-year.

Real production of iron and steel products fell by 0.51 percent sequentially in June, and are up by just 0.47 percent on year. For primary aluminum products, the figures are better: monthly after-inflation output improved by 0.26 percent, and it advanced by 1.79 percent over the June, 2016 levels.

Longer term, though, the trends in these two sectors, and in U.S. domestic industry as a whole, have diverged sharply. Since the Great Recession officially broke out, the Federal Reserve data show that American manufacturing’s constant dollar output still hasn’t fully recovered. Indeed, it’s still down by 4.03 percent.

But real iron and steel products production is still 18.55 percent lower than at the recession’s onset – more than nine years ago. Inflation-adjusted primary aluminum production stands at less than half its December, 2007 levels, having plummeted by 53.01 percent.

The plight of steel and aluminum is also apparent from the capacity utilization figures. For all of domestic American manufacturing, utilization rates were 75.88 percent. That’s 3.72 percent below the last pre-recession level of 78.81 percent.

For iron and steel products, the drop has been much steeper – capacity utilization is down 21.47 percent from its December, 2007 level of 92.11 percent. And although the latter level looks unusually high, it had been achieved regularly by these producers during previous decades.

The Fed doesn’t keep capacity utilization figures for aluminum. But statistics for the broader primary metals sector indicate that its fate has been nearly as bad. Capacity utilization since the end of 2007 has sunk from 83.52 percent to 68.24 percent – an 18.30 percent plunge.

As widely reported, this deterioration has coincided – at the very least – with an explosion in the production and export of subsidized steel and aluminum from China. As has been much less widely reported, U.S.-based producers have borne the brunt of the costs. Although comparable numbers are not available for aluminum, the American share of the global steel market has fallen by considerably more during the current economic recovery than the shares of other steel-production countries and regions. In addition, the United State runs by far the world’s biggest steel trade deficit.

It’s still unclear whether or not President Trump will decide to impose any national security-related tariffs on steel imports, which countries’ shipments will or won’t be hit, or what other measures he might approve if the tariff route is rejected. But it’s all too clear that without significant action from Washington, two more important American manufacturing sectors could needlessly fall victim to foreign trade and broader economic policies having nothing to do with either free trade or free markets.

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