Barry Zekelman, chief executive of Zekelman Industries, North America’s largest steel-tube manufacturer, became increasingly frustrated when he saw a flood of cheap steel tube imports into the United States that was undermining sales at his family-owned, Chicago-based company, so he went all out to win in an intensely competitive arena: influencing policy in Washington.
He called on well-placed connections, including a lawyer who had done work for him and had gone on to a senior position helping oversee trade policy in the Trump administration. He put his Washington-based lobbyist into action, and his company took a high-profile role with a trade group that was backing his cause. He funded his own advertising campaign to build public support for his efforts to protect makers of steel tube in the United States.
That lobbying effort was how he and his wife found themselves being ushered into a private dining room at the Trump International Hotel in Washington last spring for a small dinner with the president and his son Donald Trump Jr. Mr. Zekelman said they discussed quotas the United States was about to impose on imports of steel from competitors in South Korea.
“He’s attacking the problems that should have been attacked for many years,” Mr. Zekelman, 52, said of Mr. Trump in an interview. His status as a foreigner seeking to promote protectionist policies in the United States makes him unusual. But Mr. Zekelman’s effort amounts to a case study in how to gain and employ access in Mr. Trump’s Washington, where an ideological commitment to aiding business meets an open door to lobbyists, interest groups and donors — especially those from industries, like oil and gas, chemicals, casinos and steel, that are strong supporters of Mr. Trump.
Morris, Manning & Martin was called for comment: “The United States government has put the industry in charge of trade policy on steel,” said Julie C. Mendoza, a lawyer whose clients include Borusan Mannesmann, a manufacturer of steel tube whose imports to the United States from Turkey have prompted Zekelman Industries to lodge protests with the administration. “It’s just not right.”
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