Trump Orders Investigation of Steel Imports

President Donald Trump on April 20 issued a presidential memorandum directing the secretary of commerce to conduct an investigation “to determine the effects on national security of steel imports.”

The secretary is to exercise authority under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to conduct the inquiry and submit a report to the president within nine months. If deemed necessary, the report is to “recommend actions and steps that should be taken to adjust steel imports so that they will not threaten to impair the national security.”

American Institute for International Steel (AIIS) Executive Director Richard Chriss said his association is “concerned about the nature and scope of this investigation,” which he said seems to be “a misguided attempt to shield domestic manufacturers from competition.”

“At the very least, we hope that the secretary will consider the national security and economic implications of protectionist policies that would limit the availability of steel and drive up its price,” Chriss said. “In addition, he should remember that it is not unlikely that these actions will invite retaliatory measures by other nations against exports from the United States, both steel related and non-steel related, which could have serious economic and security consequences of their own.”

Despite these concerns, Chriss said that he will seek to meet with investigators “to provide objective data and information that will counter the misperceptions about steel imports on which this investigation appears to be based.”

The directive has received a skeptical response in other outlets, as well. The Washington Post published an editorial opposing Trump’s “bad idea” on April 26, warning that, “For both producers and consumers of American steel, the only victory in a trade war would be of the Pyrrhic variety.” The Economist, meanwhile, published an article on April 27 under the headline, “Protecting American steel from imports makes no sense,” that stated that, if punitive tariffs are imposed on steel imports, “the American economy would be hurt by a rise in the price of an essential material; it would invite retaliation that would cost American jobs, not save them; and the underlying problem – massive global steel overcapacity – would persist.”

Trump Decides Against Withdrawing from NAFTA

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was only a few days away from being scrapped in April before President Donald Trump changed his mind.

During the presidential campaign, Trump regularly inveighed against what he described as “the worst trade deal, maybe ever signed anywhere.”

Trump said in late April that he “was all set to terminate” the trade pact, and he intended to sign a letter to that effect on April 28, before Cabinet members talked him out of it, The Washington Post reported.

One of the things that reportedly swayed Trump was a map that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue showed him that illustrated what areas would be negatively affected by withdrawing from NAFTA, with many of those areas in red states.

“It shows that I do have a very big farmer base, which is good,” Trump recalled. “They like Trump, but I like them, and I’m going to help them.”

Trump was also said to have been influenced by phone calls with the leaders of Canada and Mexico. A termination order, he came to realize, would end, not promote, renegotiations.

“I can always terminate,” Trump said. “They called me up, they said, ‘Could we try negotiating?’ I said, ‘Absolutely, yes.’ If we can’t come to a satisfactory conclusion, we’ll terminate NAFTA.”

Trump campaigned on an “America First” platform that rejected multi-lateral trade agreements, and one of his first acts as president was to pull the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Nominee to Be Ambassador to China Takes Hard Line on Steel Trade

The nominee to be ambassador to China told lawmakers that, if confirmed, he will use his position to “make sure that we stop the unfair and illegal activities that we’ve seen from China in the steel industry.”

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad made the remarks during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

China produces about half of the world’s steel and is often blamed for driving global over-capacity. The nation accounts for only about 2 percent of the United States’ steel imports, though.

Branstad is expected to be easily confirmed.

Commerce Department Initiates Investigations of Steel Imports from 10 Countries

The Department of Commerce on April 18 initiated antidumping and countervailing duty investigations of imports of carbon and alloy steel wire rod from Belarus, Italy, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.

The antidumping investigations involve all 10 countries, with the alleged dumping margins ranging from 18.89 percent to 756.93 percent. The countervailing duty investigations involve Italy and Turkey, with the estimated subsidy rates being above de minimis for both nations.

The investigations were launched as a result of petitions filed by Gerdau Ameristeel U.S., Nucor Corporation, Keystone Consolidated Industries, and Charter Steel.

Preliminary determinations in the cases are expected from the International Trade Commission by May 12 and from the Commerce Department by Sept. 5.

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