Falls Church, VA. May 1, 2017. Steel imports spiked by nearly a quarter in March, and were almost a third higher than they were a year earlier.
March imports increased 24.7 percent from February to 3.4 million net tons, 30.5 percent higher than the March 2016 total. Imports from each of the United States’ main trading partners grew by double digits: the European Union, by 71.4 percent to 389,000 net tons (11.8 percent higher than the previous March); Brazil, by 29.1 percent to 488,000 net tons (42.7 percent higher); South Korea, by 21.1 percent to 317,000 net tons (13.3 percent higher); Canada, by 19.5 percent to 583,000 net tons (23.2 percent higher); and Mexico, by 18.6 percent to 311,000 net tons (25.8 percent higher).
During the first quarter of 2017, imports were up 18.7 percent compared to 2016 at 8.93 million net tons. Canada sent the most steel to the United States from January to March – 1.6 million net tons, 13 percent higher than last year. Brazil was next at 1.16 million net tons, an increase of 30 percent, followed by the European Union at 907,000 net tons, a 9.1 percent decrease, South Korea at 890,000 net tons, a 0.8 percent decrease, and Mexico at 826,000 net tons, an 18.6 percent increase.
Semifinished imports in March totaled 879,000 net tons, a jump of more than three quarters compared to March 2016. Year-to-date, semifinished imports grew by 38.4 percent to 1.52 million net tons.
The steel import numbers provide encouragement at a time when other economic indicators are not as positive. Economic growth in the first quarter was just 0.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, but the sharp increase in steel purchases indicates that companies are investing and building, something that may be reflected in gross domestic product calculations in the next quarter or two. This is also a reminder that restricting imports, and, for that matter, weakening the dollar – two things that President Donald Trump has indicated he would like to do – could stall the move toward sustained economic growth before it gets started.