South Korea

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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.

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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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With the oil price under pressure from excess supply and a growing percentage of the North American market’s oil and natural gas demand being met from domestic sources, the last thing you would expect is a surge in oil and natural gas tanker construction.

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But according to the Financial Times, that is exactly what Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), the world’s largest shipbuilder, is experiencing.

HHI has reported a 70% jump in first-half operating profit, to Won 315 billion ($280 million) in the first six months of this year from Won 186 billion a year earlier.

Even more impressive is the surge in the order book.

The group won orders to build 81 vessels worth $4.5 billion so far this year, compared with 16 vessels worth $1.7 billion in the same period last year led by a rebound in oil tankers and gas carriers, the Financial Times reports.

Source: Financial Times

It may be counterintuitive that shipping demand is surging so dramatically. Demand is positive but hardly growing robustly.

One explanation is as older vessels are retired for oil storage, stimulated by the current relatively low oil price environment, demand is increasing for more efficient, new vessels to replace them.

Apparently, both Samsung Heavy Industries and Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering are going through a similar uptick in demand.

Samsung Heavy’s first-half operating profit swung to Won 48 billion from an operating loss of Won 277.6 billion a year earlier. Daewoo Shipbuilding is also expected to report an operating profit of up to Won 800 billion for the first half after narrowly avoiding bankruptcy in April on a $2.6 billion bailout by state-run lenders, the Financial Times reports.

For the big three, this turnaround must be very welcome after years of losses and poor sales. The news will also bolster Korean steelmakers and the rest of the shipbuilders’ supply chain.

The only country building much the last few years has been China, a shipbuilding market served almost exclusively by its domestic steel mills.

However, Korean steel mills have a well-established positon as producers of high-quality, shipbuilding-grade steel.

According to Clarksons, the Financial Times reports new orders for ships worldwide rose more than 40% in the first half of this year, with South Korea taking  one-third of them, closely trailing behind China. Continued strength into next year will depend on global growth continuing in a broadly positive direction and the longer-term trend of greater reliance on liquefied natural gas for power and chemicals feedstock.

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Liquefied natural gas shipbuilding construction has been a speciality of the Korean shipyards and should remain a core offering, despite growing competition from China’s shipyards.

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Anxiety is rising among Europe’s steelmakers that a potential U.S. plan to levy steel tariffs, on national security grounds, could have a disastrous impact on the region’s sales into the market.

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Reuters reported that the European steel association Eurofer is worried that “….measures potentially stemming from the U.S. section 232 investigation may lead to a proliferation of disastrous global trade flow distortions.”

Eurofer is worried on two counts. First, it is worried that with China largely already cut out of the U.S. market by anti-dumping legislation, the axe will fall on imports from other regions, of which Europe is a major supplier. Many European countries are already experiencing steep declines in sales to the U.S. between 2015 and 2016 — in some cases of 50% — but the largest, Germany, remains the fifth-largest external supplier to the U.S. of flat-rolled products, according to International Trade Administration data.

The second worry is that should the investigation support bans or large duties, suppliers in the affected countries will look for alternative mature, high-value markets for their products, namely the EU. This would potentially flood an already overcrowded market with more low-priced material.

Having championed free trade in recent statements, Europe may have to eat its own words if it is forced to find ways to counter such a flood. Reuters reports that moves are already afoot, at the G20 summit in Germany last weekend, leaders from the world’s 20 leading economies set an August deadline for an OECD-led global forum to compile information about steel overcapacity. That also includes a report on potential solutions, due in November, which could result in the region acting of its own.

In reality, Europe may not be the primary target of the president’s 232 action. Supplies from Canada, Brazil, Mexico, South Korea, Japan and Russia dwarf those from Europe, but that will not necessarily stop the region from suffering considerable collateral damage.

The move would come at an unfortunate time for the European steel industry.

After prices rose nearly 50% last year, they have since fallen back some 10% this year, according to Reuters. Demand, however, is recovering with a 1.9% rise forecast for this year, according to Eurofer, suggesting prices could stabilize (although demand growth is expected to ease again next year, with only 1% growth forecast).

EU Strikes Back?

However, The Guardian reports Europe is also looking at retaliatory measures, should they suffer exclusion or tariffs because of the 232 action. The paper quotes the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, who is reported to have said that if the U.S. took measures against Germany and China’s steel industries, the EU would “react with counter-measures.”

The article says one industry in the Europeans’ crosshairs is Kentucky bourbon, worth $166 million to the state last year and directly employing some 17,500.

Kentucky was staunchly supportive of Trump during his campaign, with 62.5% of the electorate voting for him.

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“I am telling you this in the hope that all of this won’t be necessary,” Juncker said during the G20 summit. “But we are in an elevated battle mood.”

Bellicose talk, indeed.

The Department of Commerce today announced its affirmative final determinations that steel producers in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), and Taiwan are dumping imports of carbon and alloy steel plate in the U.S.

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Margins in the dumping investigations ranged from 3.62% to 148.02%, and were, in certain instances, based on adverse findings against non-cooperative responding parties. Commerce also determined that critical circumstances exist in three investigations, allowing for collection of duties for a retroactive period of 90 days before the preliminary determination, spanning back to August 16. Commerce also found that South Korea is providing unfair subsidies to its producers of steel plate at a countervailable duty rate of 4.31%. As a result of these final affirmative determinations, Commerce will instruct Customs and Border Protection to collect cash deposits based on these final rates. Read more

Tariffs were place on Chinese steel imported into the E.U. and the Commerce Department. placed more on phosphor copper coming into the U.S.

EU Tariffs on Chinese Steel

The European Union will impose duties on two grades of steel imported into the currency bloc from China to counter what it says are unfairly low prices.

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The duties are set at between 13.2 and 22.6% for hot-rolled flat iron and steel products and at between 65.1 and 73.7% for heavy-plate steel, according to a filing in the European Union’s official journal.

Anti-Dumping Duties on Phosphor Copper

Not to be outdone, The Department of Commerce placed tariffs on allegedly dumped imports of phosphor copper from the Republic of Korea yesterday.

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Commerce found, preliminarily, that dumping occurred by mandatory respondent Bongsan Co. Ltd. by a dumping margin of 3.79%. All other producers from South Korea also received 3.79% anti-dumping duties. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol will now collect cash deposits upon import of the copper. The petitioner is Metallurgical Products Company of Pennsylvania.

The statistics on steel imports to India speak for themselves.

Steel imports went up 72% in the last fiscal year to 9.3 million metric tons, of which South Korea and Japan together sent 3.5 mmt. They’re still going up. In the first two months of this fiscal year, the situation got worse, with shipments from Japan at 111% and from South Korea 51%.

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Fitch Ratings, for example, in a recent report, said it, too, did not expect the Indian government’s recent tariffs on the two free trade agreement partners to increase customs duties on steel imports would alleviate the pressure on Indian steel producers. The higher customs duties will likely result in only a marginal increase in the landed costs of imported steel products.

Coiledsteel_585

What Indian steel companies are hoping is that, just like in the US, the Indian government starts thinking of imposing anti-dumping and safeguard measures. Contrary to their expectations, the government is said to be actively toying with the idea of signing a free trade agreement with the Philippines. It also extended a previous deal to supply high-grade ore to Japan and Korea. Read more

The Commerce Department determined that imports of steel nails from South Korea, Malaysia, Oman, Taiwan, and Vietnam have been sold in the US at dumping margins ranging from up to 11.80% for South Korea, 2.61% to 39.35% for Malaysia 9.10% for Oman, up to 2.24% for Taiwan, and a whopping 323.99% in Vietnam.

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The imports of steel nails from Korea, Malaysia, Oman, and Taiwan received “de minimis” countervailable subsidies resulting in final negative determinations that apply to those countries, respectively. Commerce determined that imports of steel nails from Vietnam received countervailable subsidies ranging from 288.56% to 313.97%.

South Korea

In the South Korea anti-dumping investigation, Commerce found that mandatory respondent Jinheung Steel Corporation and its affiliates Jinsco International Corporation and Duo-Fast Korea Co. Ltd., had not sold steel nails into the US at less than fair value. Mandatory respondent Daejin Steel received a final dumping margin of 11.80%. All other producers/exporters in South Korea received a dumping margin of 11.80%.

Vietnam

In the Vietnam anti-dumping investigation, mandatory respondents Region Industries Co., Ltd., and its affiliated exporter Region International Co., Ltd., and United Nail Products Co., Ltd. failed to respond to Commerce’s request for information and were deemed to be part of the Vietnam-wide entity. Accordingly, they received a final dumping margin of 323.99%. Separate rate applicant Kosteel Vina Limited Company received a final dumping margin of 323.99%. All other producers/exporters were deemed to be part of the Vietnam-wide entity and received the Vietnam-wide margin of 323.99%.

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The Department of Commerce is investigating antidumping duty and countervailing duty investigations of imports of welded oil and gas line pipe from South Korea and Turkey.

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Circular welded carbon and alloy steel (other than stainless steel) pipe used for oil or gas pipelines is the focus of the investigation. Welded line pipe is normally produced to the American Petroleum Institute (API) specification 5L, but can be produced to comparable foreign specifications, to proprietary grades, or can be non-graded material. All pipe meeting the physical description, including multiple-stenciled pipe with an API or comparable foreign specification line pipe stencil, is covered by the scope of these investigations.

The petitioners are American Cast Iron Pipe Company (Birmingham, AL); Energex, a division of JMC Steel Group (Chicago, IL); Maverick Tube Corporation (Houston, TX); Northwest Pipe Company (Vancouver, WA); Stupp Corporation, a division of Stupp Bros., Inc. (Baton Rouge, LA); Tex-Tube Corporation (Houston, TX); TMK IPSCO (Houston, TX); and Welspun Tubular LLC USA (Little Rock, AR).

In 2013, imports of welded line pipe from South Korea and Turkey were valued at an estimated $554.1 million and $46.7 million. Dumping rates for South Korea could potentially be 48 to 202% and up to 9.85% for Turkey. The US International Trade Commission will make a decision by December 1.

Cheap steel products have been flowing into the United States from China, South Korea, India and elsewhere, making it much tougher for any domestic steel producer price increases to stick – and it looks as though it may be impossible to stem the tide of flooding imports anytime soon.

Record steel import numbers are harming the likes of AK Steel, Nucor and other producers, and foreign producers such as Vallourec and Tenaris getting more capacity online in the US surely isn’t helping. According to reporting by John Miller of the Wall Street Journal, “First-quarter steel imports by U.S. companies rose 36% from a year earlier to 10.6 million metric tons, according to research firm Global Trade Information Services. That was the highest level since the record 13 million tons reached in 2006.”

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(BREAKING: This also isn’t helping – Chinese army hackers breaching AK Steel, US Steel, Alcoa Inc, Allegheny Technologies and Westinghouse’s systems to gain competitive advantage for their state-owned enterprises, as per today’s case filed by the US Justice Department. More on SOE’s in Part Two of this article.)

According to another recent report by the Economic Policy Institute and law firm Stewart and Stewart, some 583,600 total jobs, including more than 200,000 in related manufacturing sectors, are at risk of going “poof” if imports dethrone the competitiveness of domestic steel production.

The US steel industry is not the only one being hit – aluminum imports are also at record highs.

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