Alexandria, VA. October 24, 2017.

Steel imports declined by more than one-tenth from August to September, falling to 3.05 million net tons.

The August decline was driven by a 38.7 percent drop in imports from Brazil to 355,000 net tons and a 31.9 percent decrease in imports from Russia to 257,000 net tons, as well as dips of more than 11 percent in imports from Canada (479,000 net tons) and South Korea (323,000 net tons). The September total, though, was still more than 11 percent higher than in September 2017, and while imports from Brazil were down 15.3 percent compared to the preceding September, imports from Russia, Canada and South Korea were up 61.8 percent, 15.4 percent and 14 percent, respectively, relative to a year earlier. Imports from the European Union and Mexico both increased more than 15 percent month-to-month to 491,000 net tons and 325,000 net tons, respectively. The European Union total was 26 percent higher than in September of last year, while the Mexico numbers were 29.4 percent higher.

Imports through the first nine months of the year increased by nearly one-fifth to 29.66 million net tons. The most imports came from Canada – 4.71 million net tons, 11 percent higher than during the same time in 2016 – followed by the European Union (4.05 million net tons, up 18.1 percent), Brazil (3.93 million net tons, up 17.7 percent) and South Korea (2.96 million net tons, down 1.2 percent). Imports from Mexico totaled 2.69 million net tons, a 23.4 percent increase compared to last year, while imports from Russia grew 65.2 percent to 2.6 million net tons.

Semifinished imports totaled 613,000 net tons in September, a 3.6 percent decrease from September 2016. Year-to-date, semifinished imports were up 40.4 percent to 6.76 million net tons.

While it is encouraging that the Trump administration has not been as energetic about fulfilling its protectionist promises as had been feared, free trade in steel remains threatened. The Commerce Department’s report on its Section 232 investigation of steel imports must be completed no later than January, and some leading Democrats are pushing for faster and more aggressive action, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York goading President Donald Trump by calling him a “total paper tiger” on trade. The prospect of a bipartisan rush toward tariffs on foreign steel should frighten not just everyone in the steel supply chain, but also consumers who will ultimately bear the cost of shielding domestic manufacturers from fair competition.

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