Stewart Mills

Stewart Mills at Mesabi Daily News talks about his upcoming campaign against Congressman Rick Nolan.

VIRGINIA — Wavering on trade agreements?

Not so fast, says Stewart Mills, who swiftly defended his stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after a union rally in Keewatin accused the District 8 congressional candidate of flip-flopping on the issue.

The TPP is widely-regarding among the mining industry as a trade agreement that could hurt workers and jobs. Opposition for it has also reached across aisles, though the deal has become a point of political fodder in national and local elections.

Congressman Rick Nolan, D-Minn., who is running against Mills in November’s General Election, stands opposed. On Wednesday, Mills said a nine-second clip of him talking was used as the basis for a claim by Nolan and the United Steelworkers Local 2660 to say he supports the TPP. Instead, he said he supports negotiation with Asia on tougher trade deals.

Mills, responding to the rally in a visit to the Mesabi Daily News, said Nolan’s campaign is in “panic mode” and called on his opponent and USW to release the full audio.

“The TPP is not the trade agreement we need,” he said. “Waiving the white flag and not negotiating with Asia will produce much of the same, and much of the same will put our part of Minnesota out of business.”

Local 2660 members, who work out of U.S. Steel’s currently idle Keetac plant in Keewatin, endorsed Nolan on Tuesday hours after he received the Steel Champion award from the American Iron and Steel Institute.

While the accolades and union endorsement roll in for Nolan, Mills sticks to his guns that the action was too little, too late.

Case in point, he says, is that Nolan waited until 2,000 Iron Range miners were out of work until seeking tariffs. Mills also referenced the newest AISI report that says steel imports are up and production is down despite 500 percent tariffs on illegally imported steel. Nolan and Cliffs Natural Resources CEO Lourenco Goncalves responded to the report Tuesday saying the turnaround will take time as illegal steel is flushed out of the system.

Mills counters that the capacity for mining is down in 2016 as a result of slow reaction to the 2015 downturn, and bad trade deals resulting in less demand for steel from a slower national economy.

“It has gone from bad to worse,” Mills said, referencing the report. “You can’t just put a Band-Aid on it.”

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