Alexandria, VA. January 30, 2018. Despite an end-of-year dip, annual steel imports increased by more than 15 percent in 2017.

The December total of 2.45 million net tons of imports was down 10 percent from November. This followed an 11.4 percent slide from October to November.

Imports from Brazil plummeted more than 29 percent to 355,000 net tons in December, a total that was nearly unchanged from December 2016, while imports from the European Union slid nearly 24 percent to 423,000 net tons, a 3.8 percent decrease from a year earlier, and imports from South Korea fell almost 9 percent month-to-month and more than 27 percent from December of last year to 192,000 net tons. As for the NAFTA countries, imports from Canada fell one-tenth to 494,000 net tons, which was 13.7 percent higher than the previous December, while imports from Mexico slid 7.5 percent to 244,000 net tons, which was 2.2 percent lower than a year prior.

Imports for all of 2017 totaled 38.12 million net tons, a 15.4 percent increase over 2016. Canada shipped 6.32 million net tons of steel to the United States during the year, a 12 percent annual increase, while the European Union sent 5.53 million net tons, an increase of 17.4 percent. Imports from Brazil totaled 5.15 million net tons, up 18.1 percent from 2016, imports from South Korea 3.76 million net tons, down 1.1 percent, and imports from Mexico 3.49 million net tons, up 16.2 percent.

It is ironic – but not coincidental – that steel imports increased sharply under a president who campaigned on pledges to restrict them to protect the domestic steel industry. Those promises appear to have encouraged a rush to import steel before restrictions could be put in place, leading to the big swing from the last full year of the Obama administration, when imports decreased 14.9 percent. It is fortunate that President Donald Trump’s trade promises have so far gone unkept, but with the Section 232 report now having been submitted to the White House by the Department of Commerce, the possibility that the United States will limit steel imports remains, and may have increased. It would be unfortunate if the administration cites the growth in imports in 2017 as evidence that restrictions are needed, since that seems to have been, at least in part, a Trump-induced increase. Not only does protectionism distort markets, even talk of protectionism distorts them.

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