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Japanese company pursues U.S. Steel acquisition amid uproar

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(The Center Square) – Japanese-owned Nippon Steel says that the company’s longtime presence in the United States makes it an ideal partner to help grow the industry domestically.

The comment comes after the White House and former President Donald Trump criticized the company’s $14.9 billion plan to acquire U.S. Steel, headquartered in Pittsburgh.

President Joe Biden, although opposed, has made no promises to block the potential deal. Trump said he’d do so if elected in November.

Nippon President Tadashi Imai said the company’s 2,000 patents and 4,000 employees based in the United States – in Pennsylvania, Alabama, Virginia and West Virginia – support its assertion.

In a March 15 statement, Imai said Nippon “is the right partner to ensure that U.S. Steel is successful for generations to come as an iconic American company.”

The bold sentiment reflects the cultural significance of steel production in Pennsylvania and particularly Pittsburgh – the historical center of the industry in the United States at the turn of the 20th century.

It was at that time that famed business tycoons Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan and Charles Schwab merged operations to become U.S. Steel, the largest producer in the nation.

The company eventually diversified its offerings as the steel industry slid into decline in the 1970s.

An economic impact study from the Pennsylvania Economy League found that, in 2024, the state’s $33.1 billion steel industry employs nearly 31,000 workers in iron and steel mills and ferroalloy manufacturing.

Opposition to Nippon’s proposal, however, extends nationwide.

The United Steel Workers Union – representing 850,000 workers across the country, including some from Nippon – backed the White House’s opposition, calling for U.S. Steel to remain a domestically-owned and operated company.

In a statement published March 14, union President David McCall – in a recall of Biden’s words – said the president “meant it” when he said he “had our members’ backs.”

“Allowing one of our nation’s largest steel manufacturers to be purchased by a foreign-owned corporation leaves us vulnerable when it comes to meeting both our defense and critical infrastructure needs,” he said.

“The president’s statements should end the debate: U.S. Steel must remain ‘domestically owned and operated,’” McCall added.

Imai said, however, the company will grow U.S. Steel without compromising its workers by providing “significant commitments to the USW in our continued efforts to reach a mutually agreeable resolution.”

The union referred The Center Square to a collection of statements and letters released by McCall and other organizational leaders that remain critical of Nippon’s commitments.

In a letter to members sent Tuesday, McCall said Imai’s latest offer contains “nothing more than another collection of empty promises and open-ended language that would enable it to skirt obligations to workers and retirees.”

“In the response that we sent today, we were firm and clear: our union sees through Nippon’s proposal and will not support the transaction in exchange for a pack of empty promises,” he said. “Nor will we be deceived by so-called commitments that have baked into them ways to release Nippon from following through.”

In a statement released Monday, Imai said – in addition to global expansion plans – Nippon wants to become “a pioneer in decarbonization.”

“Fundamentally, steel has one of the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per ton among various industrial materials and is a recyclable material that can be reused repeatedly,” he said. “The importance of steel remains unwavering even in the age of carbon neutrality.”

U.S. Steel, likewise, announced plans in 2021 to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

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