United States eyes tariffs or quotas to curb steel, aluminum imports

White House Holds Meeting to Discuss Aluminum and Steel Trade Actions

The Department of Commerce will recommend tariffs on steel and aluminum that, if applied, would be the first shots in a global trade war, according to two sources briefed on the report.

Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 gives the president the power to restrict imports and impose unlimited tariffs if a Commerce Department investigation finds they threaten national security. Our imports are almost four times our exports. Their excess capacity alone exceeds the total US steel-making capacity.

As of February 15, 2018, the US had 169 antidumping and countervailing duty orders in place on steel, of which 29 are against China, and there are 25 ongoing investigations. The recommendations are part of an investigation into the impact of the oversupply of steel and aluminum and whether the current glut undermines United States national security.

The measures are meant to increase US production to 80 percent of capacity in both industries. A quota of 63% of 2017 exports for the countries listed in the prior sentence.

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But Commerce said the goal of the measures is to boost domestic aluminium and steel production.

"Any exclusions granted could result in changed tariffs or quotas for the remaining products to maintain the overall effect", Commerce said.

Aluminum: 7.7% tariff on all aluminum exports from all countries. For example, there is only one remaining USA producer of the high-quality aluminum alloy needed for military aerospace. Aluminum is vital to our national security. As of February 15, 2018, the USA had two antidumping and countervailing duty orders in place on aluminum, both against China, and there are four ongoing investigations against China. Axios quotes one "trade expert" predicting that if Trump accepts these recommendations, it will represent a "declaration of war against the world on aluminum and steel", and another who suggests that it could wreck the World Trade Organization, the chief arbiter of trade rules. These would cover both aluminum ingots and a wide variety of aluminum products. A quota on imports from all countries to a maximum of 86.7% of their 2017 exports to the U.S. USA steel plants are running at 73 percent of capacity and aluminum plants at 48 percent.

For aluminum, he recommended either a 7.7 per cent tariffs on the metal from all countries; a quota for all countries; or, perhaps the most shocking of all the options, a 23.6 per cent tariffs on imports of all products from China, Russia, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Venezuela.

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