Commentary

In case you missed it, just before President Trump went on his Asia tour (including a state visit with China’s President Xi Jinping), the U.S. finally went on record in ruling that China is still not a market economy for purposes of determining anti-dumping duties.

To folks inside the Beltway on the front lines of trade policy, this is a big deal.

In fact, it’s China’s single-biggest trade issue, said Tim Brightbill, partner at Wiley Rein LLP in Washington, D.C., in the second episode of our series, “Manufacturing Trade Policy Confidential.”

So what will this mean for the U.S.-China relationship?  What will happen if the U.S. slaps China with even bigger tariffs after the Section 232 investigation is completed? Will China retaliate? How?

Listen to the full episode!

Manufacturing Trade Policy Confidential: Background

With everything that’s been happening on the international trade policy front over the past year, we wanted to give metal buying organizations more insight into the issues they may not be reading or hearing enough about — or at all — in the mainstream B2C media.

What better way to do so than go straight to the source — or sources — and interview some key movers and shakers on the manufacturing and policy fronts? So we’ve started a brand-new series called “Manufacturing Trade Policy Confidential.”

If you’ve visited MetalMiner’s digital pages over the past several months, you’re no stranger to the phrase “Section 232” — shorthand for the U.S. Department of Commerce investigation into whether certain steel imports constitute a national security risk, under the namesake section of the U.S. Trade Expansion Act of 1962.

The outcome of the investigation (findings from which were slated to come down last summer but have been delayed) could have significant effects on upstream and downstream manufacturing organizations, ranging from metal producers to buying organizations – even the mom-and-pops.

But Section 232 is only one small part. Trade circumvention, China’s non-market economy status, domestic uncertainty amidst proposed tax plans and many other issues have pushed us to start this new podcast series.

We’ll be publishing several more interviews in the coming weeks and months – stay tuned!

Listen to more episodes and follow the MetalMiner Podcast on SoundCloud.

Welcome to the (re)launch of the MetalMiner Podcast!

(We’re calling it a relaunch because, well, remember this?)

With everything that’s been happening on the international trade policy front over the past year, we wanted to give metal buying organizations more insight into the issues they may not be reading or hearing enough about — or at all — in the mainstream B2C media.

What better way to do so than go straight to the source — or sources — and interview some key movers and shakers on the manufacturing and policy fronts? So we’re starting a brand-new series called “Manufacturing Trade Policy Confidential.”

New Series: Manufacturing Trade Policy Confidential

In this first episode of the series, MetalMiner Executive Editor Lisa Reisman interviews Michael Stumo, CEO of the Coalition for a Prosperous America.

Stumo’s concerns, and those of his organization, cut across industry sectors and political leanings. In this conversation, Stumo outlines what he sees as the most crucial elements to consider in today’s trade environment, touching on everything from China to the German Mittelstand to Alexander Hamilton as economic visionary.

Manufacturing Trade Policy Confidential: Background

If you’ve visited MetalMiner’s digital pages over the past several months, you’re no stranger to the phrase “Section 232” — shorthand for the U.S. Department of Commerce investigation into whether certain steel imports constitute a national security risk, under the namesake section of the U.S. Trade Expansion Act of 1962.

The outcome of the investigation (findings from which were slated to come down last summer but have been delayed) could have significant effects on upstream and downstream manufacturing organizations, ranging from metal producers to buying organizations – even the mom-and-pops.

But Section 232 is only one small part. Trade circumvention, China’s non-market economy status, domestic uncertainty amidst proposed tax plans and many other issues have pushed us to start this new podcast series.

We’ll be publishing several more interviews in the coming weeks and months – stay tuned!

Follow the MetalMiner Podcast on SoundCloud.

gui yong nian/Adobe Stock

Several sources are leading on news that President Trump has twice rejected a Chinese proposal to cut steel overcapacity, despite the endorsement of some of his top advisors.

An agreement reached between U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Chinese officials last month agreed a cut of 150 million tons per annum of capacity by 2022 was vetoed by the president, apparently because he preferred a more “disruptive strategy,” according to Reuters and the Financial Times.

The articles suggested the 22% rise in steel imports through July of this year compared to a year ago, reported by the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), spurred calls for action from U.S. steel producers to apply tariffs. Those calls may have influenced Trump’s position, as may the input of Steve Bannon, since fired, and Peter Navarro, an economic assistant to the president on trade matters.

The rejection of a deal brokered by Ross’ team seems to have undermined his position and probably leaves little room for further negotiation. The Chinese have gone away to consider their options, but rumors reported in the Financial Times suggest retaliatory action seems the most likely.

But while picking a fight with China probably makes for good headlines, at least as far as U.S. imports are concerned, is it the primary antagonist?

Not if you look at the AISI data.

Their findings suggest Taiwan and Turkey were the countries making up much of the increase. There was a sizeable increase from other countries, too, meaning Germany, up nearly 60%, and Brazil, up 80%, on three-month rolling average measures.

At 83,000 tons, China’s share of finished steel imports is a fraction of South Korea’s 352,000 tons, Turkey’s 245,000 tons or Japan and Germany’s about 138,000 tons.

Unless the administration plans on tackling these suppliers, picking out China seems a bit like fiddling while Rome burns.

We would hope that Trump’s presidency ends much better than Nero’s both for the man and the country, but picking fights that have a pragmatic strategy rather than catching headlines would be a good first step.

The Trump administration is right to worry about the loss of American jobs and to explore the reasons for trade imbalances.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

But they are wrong for taking a blanket pop at free trade agreements and saying just because there is a trade imbalance that it is the fault of the agreement.

An article in Bloomberg reporting on recent discussions between U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong this week illustrates the problem.

Lighthizer vaguely stated the U.S. administration is seeking “substantial improvements” that address the trade imbalance, adding that the U.S. wants to see the free trade agreement (FTA) deal “fully implemented.”

The Korean side and most independent observers are perplexed at what the U.S. actually expects to achieve.

Emissions Standards Too Strict, U.S. Argues

Bilateral trade has surged since KORUS, as the Korean-U.S. trade deal is known, was implemented five years ago. Although there is a trade imbalance, the reality is no two countries will have exactly balanced trade. Balances have more to do with relative competitiveness than a rigged system.

Bloomberg reports that South Korea is the U.S.’s seventh-largest trading partner, while the U.S. is South Korea’s second-biggest partner, after China. U.S. figures indicate its goods deficit with South Korea was $27.7 billion last year, or about $4.4 billion more than the number Korea came up with. The U.S. has cited non-tariff barriers in South Korea’s auto market as an example of the unfairness of the FTA, saying that South Korean emissions standards are too strict.

Honestly, can the U.S. (or anyone else) criticize another country for being too strict on emissions?

Japanese and European manufacturers meet the standards. Perversely enough, U.S. manufacturers comfortably meet the Korean standards — supporters say the FTA has helped U.S. automakers to surpass Japan to rank second in imported autos since 2015.

So, how are emission standards a barrier?

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An interesting article in the Financial Times explores the decline of global capital flows since the financial crisis and how the nature of capital flows has changed markedly since 2007.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

The article draws on research by the McKinsey Global Institute looking at how bank lending, particularly European cross-border bank lending, has shriveled up and been partially replaced by company fixed-asset investment. That, we would normally say, is a good thing. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is usually a more productive commitment by companies in factories and other facilities.

But the concern is the main factor behind the expansion in FDI has been the flow of investment booked in “financial centers” — the polite phrase for low-tax countries such as Ireland, the Financial Times says.

A lot of this money represents tax-motivated profit shifting that simply shows up on balance of payments as FDI flows.

Cross-border capital flows are down significantly from where they were when the global financial crisis began, the Financial Times reports. The $4.3 trillion that flowed around the world last year was only a third of the peak of $12.4 trillion in 2007. While no one is suggesting a return to those levels would be a good idea – much of that liquidity resulting from savings in China and other emerging market economies and the wealth of oil exporters found its home in U.S. property, helping build a bubble that led to the financial crisis — but nor is it healthy that firms are squirreling away billions off-shore to avoid tax at home. Think Apple’s massive off-shore war chest, as an example.

Another major change that the world is only just catching up to is the shift in capital account balances.

At the time of the financial crisis, China had the world’s biggest surplus while the U.S. had the largest surplus on its current account – mainly trade. Now, it is China and Japan, as the graph below shows, and politicians in the U.S. are only just catching up to the idea that Germany is the mercantilist of the second half of this decade, not China. It should be said, however, that all imbalances have declined relative to GDP.

Source Financial Times

Finally — and this will not come as any surprise — the role of mature economies is waning compared to emerging markets.

Developed economies are sending significantly less money overseas in the form of FDI than they did before the crisis. Their share of global FDI has also been falling as China’s role has grown. This is already causing a reaction in the U.S. and Europe to Chinese firms buying up famous and occasionally strategic firms and assets, and may yet lead to legal barriers being raised to prevent further encroachment.

Free Download: The August 2017 MMI Report

Popular wisdom suggests a currency devaluation results in a boost to exports and the economy. The devaluation of the currency allows manufacturers, in particular, to sell their products at lower prices in export markets and therefore achieve growth at the expense of their competitors.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Many countries have been trying to quietly engineer just such a devaluation.

Some have done it overtly, like Japan, and others simply by being part of a bloc, such as Germany – it being widely accepted that the Deutschmark, if it still existed, would have Germany at an exchange rate like Switzerland or Norway, rather than the more competitive Euro.

So when Britain inexplicably voted to leave the European Union and the Pound sterling dropped in minutes on the news, many held the near 17% devaluation as a panacea for Britain’s economic ills, as the onset of a renaissance for manufacturing companies able to aggressively export to the world while simultaneously undercutting competitors.

The reality has proved somewhat otherwise.

Read more

Life sometimes springs happy coincidences on us.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Sustainable supply chains have become increasingly important, as companies assess the economic damage to their brand of exposure to bad news from their supply chains.

Social media has made the dissemination of such information faster, easier and instantly global in nature, rather than being limited to those who read the papers or are industry insiders.

A chance introduction to Daniel Perry from EcoVadis one evening earlier last week was an education in how sophisticated the assessment and auditing of supply chains has become — and not just for Fortune 500s in the public eye. Supply chains have also become more complicated for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) keen on growing the bottom line, but also on building an ethical business.

Where was the coincidence, you may ask, apart from the one data point of meeting Perry?

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You would think that a stiffening of Washington’s backbone when it comes to Russia would be welcomed by Europe. After all, it was Germany’s Angela Markel that has led the tough stand taken against Moscow following the Russian-sponsored uprising in eastern Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

But on the contrary, cross-party support in the U.S. House of Representatives led to a 419 to 3 vote in favor of new financial sanctions against Russia this week, a move that has faced fierce criticism from Bonn and considerable debate about the wider implications.

The EU probably does not care about the inclusion of North Korea in the proposed sanctions, although it has taken a distinctly different and more tolerant line on Iran (the third regime included in the action).

But it is Russia that is really raising the hackles in Bonn according to Carnegie Europe, a Brussels-based think tank.

Impact on Europe

A post on the site reports the action could not only severely impact many European companies who have already invested heavily in projects, particularly in the oil and gas sector, but that it could also precipitate a political divide among Europe’s partners. Seen in the context of this development, President Donald Trump’s focus on Poland during his recent visit to the continent for the G-20 summit takes on a more sinister slant — at least, that is the view many Europeans are taking.

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Aluminum may have been the best-performing metal on the LME this year, but copper is making a good showing, too, with the price hitting a 4 1/2 month peak last Friday.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Supporting the price earlier this year was a long strike at Chile’s Escondida, the world’s largest copper mine. However, as that dispute was settled workers contracts have come up for renewal at other mines in Chile and Peru, causing if not out-right strikes then the fear of supply disruption.

Workers at Chile’s Zaldivar mine came out on strike after talks failed while nearby Centinelais is also in negotiations with the threat of strike action.

According to Reuters together the two mines produced 340,000 tons of copper in 2016. Unionized workers in Peru, the world’s second-biggest copper producer, began a nationwide strike on Wednesday protesting against labor reforms, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, recent data from China show the economy picked up in the second quarter and the expectation that the world’s largest copper consumer is likely to hit growth targets for 2017 set earlier this year have only added fuel to the fire in supporting prices.

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I could be committed for heresy for what I am about to write, but it isn’t a foregone conclusion that Britain will leave the European Union (EU).

Participate in MetalMiner’s Budgeting Workshop on July 26 to help set your 2018 metals budget

On the balance of probabilities, a break with the EU is more likely than not. In recent weeks, however, the realization of what leaving the single market will mean to voters’ pockets, not to mention the fiasco of the Conservative government in-fighting, has encouraged some to think a rethink may yet prevail. A second referendum is, while not likely, at least not impossible.

I say heresy because the debate is becoming increasingly acerbic.

Leave supporters, in particular, shout shrilly anytime the topic is raised that “we cannot thwart the will of the people” and to even suggest a rethink is “anti-democratic.” As Gideon Rachman wrote so eloquently in the Financial Times this week, this sounds rather like a third-world dictator, who having unexpectedly achieved a vote in his favour says — “one man, one vote, one time.”

In other words, once a decision has been taken by referendum, it cannot be revoked.

But as Rachman observes, this denies the fact that the electorate was, putting it politely, profoundly misled during the campaign.

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