WTO

India has lost a case against the US at the World Trade Organization over protection for local crystalline silicon and thin-film solar cells.

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The WTO ruled that India’s domestic content requirements under its new solar power program were inconsistent with international agreements. Indian officials have said they will appeal the ruling to the WTO’s dispute panel in the next two months.

Solar Panel array

Photovoltaic solar array, the kind US manufacturers would love to send to India.

The US alleged that India’s ambitious solar program discriminates against US crystalline silicon photovoltaic and thin-film solar panel manufacturers by requiring Indian producers to use locally manufactured silicon or thin-film cells and by offering subsidies to those developers who use domestic equipment. Read more

Which countries are to blame for the glut of steel and aluminum imports flooding American shores? Sure, the usual suspect – China – looms front and center, but another culprit lurks just in its shadow. (We set the stage in Part One of this article; read here if you missed it.)

The wild card is South Korea, specifically if we look at oil country tubular goods (OCTG) imports. According to the EPI report, Korea’s capacity for producing OCTG – which is entirely for export; they use none of it – increased 21.1% from 2010 and 2012, which enabled 47.4% for export, over 90% of which was US-bound.

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As for aluminum, other than the spike in Russian imports, Canada took the biggest piece of the pie (as it has for many years); but the second-largest exporter to the US for the first two months of 2014, according to USGS data: the United Arab Emirates. Since power supply is cheap in the Middle East, primary producers have been ramping up smelter capacity, and of course, there’s nowhere for the excess metal to go – except the US.

What do record steel and aluminum imports have in common? China, Korea, India and other countries’ governments essentially shun economics and unfairly subsidize these industries in myriad ways, creating a huge oversupply bubble.

Price Effect

No need to look further than the tale of two charts:

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The World Trade Organization has ruled against China and its export restrictions on rare minerals, according to the FT, saying Beijing had for years used trade policy to control key markets for strategic commodities and encourage manufacturers to move their operations to China.

Of course, China will appeal, so the status quo will remain for the time being, but speculation is already growing that an increase in exports could depress global prices for rare earths further, possibly making some of the start-ups unviable and certainly deterring new mining ventures currently on the drawing board.

A Reuters article quotes Ryan Castilloux, founding director at Adamas Intelligence in Sudbury, Ontario, saying, “If the recent WTO ruling leads to a softening of China’s rare earth industry policy measures, the nation’s only tangible defense becomes competing head-to-head on price with emerging global producers,” ergo prices will fall.

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What’s happening to rare earth prices now?

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us anti dumping duty india steel pipe

Once again, Indian steel manufacturers, especially those into making steel pipes, are in the news vis-a-vis the US Department of Commerce.

A few days ago, the Commerce Department, according to reports, decided to set tariffs on the imports of steel pipes from four nations — India, Vietnam, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

The step did not come as much of a surprise to Indian steel sector analysts, as many anticipated the move following several complaints by US companies. Those companies had said that imported steel pipes were being sold at below-market rates, leading to unfair practice.

Reports here said a consortium of US pipe manufacturers and steelmakers had claimed that India and the other named countries were dumping steel pipe products in the US markets, and that these products enjoyed government subsidies.

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What happens when the majority of the world’s trade-driving regions encounter economic crises?

Short answer: current and future-forecast global trade grinds to a halt.

Although the grinding and the halting is not as pronounced as it was in the dark days after the 2008 economic crash, the dominoes of economic slowdown are falling one after the other — and the implications for industrial metals markets could be bigger than we’ve experienced in years.

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When I received my daily press alert for goings-on within the World Trade Organization (WTO), I almost chuckled.

Turns out that both the US and China — apparently coincidentally — levied cases against each other before the WTO at virtually the same time.

In the first, the US accused China of unfairly subsidizing its automobile exports, to the tune of $1 billion — that’s right, billion — between 2009 and 2011, according to Keith Bradsher’s article in the New York Times.

In the second, China took the “kitchen sink” approach, turned around and accused the US of unfair countervailing and anti-dumping duties placed on various goods such as “paper, steel, tyres, magnets, chemicals, kitchen appliances, wood flooring, and wind towers,” according to a WTO press release.

The FT reminds us that the Obama administration has filed two other cases against China this year, one on rare earths and another on China’s imposition of countervailing and anti-dumping duties on car exports.

Does this sound like a weird, global-trade see-saw? Well, it is. Here’s what’s interesting this time around, however.

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A bill (HR 4402) that would streamline the process of bringing US mineral reserves to market passed the House of Representatives last week. China’s announced moves to stockpile rare earth metals highlight the need for the US to identify alternative means of sourcing a broad spectrum of metals deemed both critical and strategic to national security — not to mention industry.

But the bill will likely languish in the Senate (Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced the companion bill) and faces an uncertain future as President Obama has indicated he does not support the legislation for environmental reasons.

Ironically, the president issued Executive Order 13604 back in late March, “which requires a significant reduction in the review and permitting timeframes for infrastructure projects,” but opposes the bill to “include domestic mines that provide strategic and critical minerals within the scope of “infrastructure projects” for the purposes of Executive Order 13604,” according to the NMA.

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As the available market for all kinds of products becomes more global, less confined to the once dominant markets of North America and Europe, and as corporations’ fortunes rest on their ability to compete across those global markets rather than just the US or Europe (historically seen as enough to ensure a prosperous future), are we likely to see producers of all kinds of products lobby not just their own trade offices, but maybe their governments to take cases to the WTO?

Take the wind turbine market as an example. Although the world’s largest manufacturer is Vestas of Denmark, US producers were historically not far behind in their home market, but in recent years the global No. 2 and 3 slots have been taken by Sinovel and Goldwind of China as the top 3 increasingly vie for business in emerging markets.

Growth in what is now an $80 billion global market has shifted to developing markets as subsidies have been pegged back in Europe and the US.

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The trade war between India and the United States intensified further as New Delhi has approached the World Trade Organization (WTO) against the US for imposing import duties on certain Indian steel products, reports Business Line.

According to a posting on the WTO’s website on April 12, India requested consultations with the US under the dispute settlement system concerning the latter’s countervailing duties on certain steel products from India. The WTO site states more details on the trade dispute will be made available in the next few days. (Ed. note: read more on what consultations really mean.)

Reports reaching here from Washington suggest that the US Commerce Department has set a preliminary import duty of nearly 286 percent on circular welded carbon quality steel pipes from India to offset government subsidies and a duty of slightly more than 8 percent on the same product from Vietnam.

However, the Commerce Department declined to set preliminary duties on imports from Oman and the United Arab Emirates, saying it found little or no subsidies for steel pipe producers in those countries.

A PTI report stated a final decision on duty rates is expected in August. The United States imported about $64.5 million of the steel pipe from India and $50.1 million from Vietnam. It imported $28.1 million from Oman and $53.9 million from the UAE.

The US duties on steel exports have affected a number of Indian steel companies including Essar, Tata, Jindal and Sail.

Media reports suggest that the move comes just a few weeks after the US sought similar consultations with India over the import ban imposed by the country on poultry and poultry product imports because of the bird flu scare. It has been reported in Indian print media that India also has plans of filing a formal complaint with the WTO over the professional visa fee hike carried out by the US.

It is believed that Washington has imposed a duty on the premise that state-owned National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) may be supplying iron ore at subsidized prices to Indian steelmakers, giving them an advantage. Indian steel manufacturers purchase a large amount of their iron ore from NMDC, the country’s largest iron ore producer.

But India claims that the corporation sells iron ore at prevailing market rates, which are determined by their exports to Japan and South Korea.

As for the two countries’ recent history with the WTO, earlier in March, the US brought a case against India’s ban on imports of certain American farm products, including poultry, meat and eggs. The US had termed the ban as “unjustified.”

The US has been imposing countervailing duties (CVD), a levy to neutralize government subsidies, on steel for the last decade. Duties on Indian companies range from about 18 percent on Essar to over 500 percent for companies such as Tata and Jindal.

It has also imposed antidumping duties, a penal levy on imports that are sold at higher prices in the home market of the exporter, of over 20 percent.

TC Malhotra contributes to MetalMiner from New Delhi.

We all know a thing or two about news that’s not really news (or, to put it more accurately, news that’s overblown) — and this phenomenon seems to happen in the realm of rare earth metals more than anywhere else.

Reporting on rare earth metals is such a hot commodity in and of itself that the hot commodity — rare earths, in this case — and the global activity surrounding it gets a bit more attention than it should. (See our recent post on an overblown rare earths story, and what leading rare earths expert Gareth Hatch had to say about it.)

The same holds true for the recent World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling against China, in which it found that China must lift export restrictions on certain raw materials. A few headlines in the mainstream media on the ruling zeroed in on the implications for rare earths restrictions, and not a single article failed to mention what those implications were.

As Robert Oak wrote in the Economic Populist: “While people rejoice and believe this ruling implies China will have to remove export restrictions on rare earth minerals, au contraire, it’s not so.” He may be right. As the graph below shows, China’s iron grip on rare earths is not likely to subside.

Source: USGS via The Economic Populist

So let’s focus on the actual center of this ruling; more specifically, on the materials and industries. The American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), the Steel Manufacturers Association, the Specialty Steel Industry of North America, the Committee on Pipe and Tube Imports, and the United Steelworkers all hopped on board the praise-the-ruling train, since the domestic steel industry has arguably more at stake here than those that source rare earth metals for their products.

The steel and chemicals industries depend, to varying degrees, on bauxite, coke, fluorspar, magnesium, manganese, silicon carbide, silicon metal, yellow phosphorus and zinc — the raw materials covered by the WTO appellate ruling. Domestic steel producers are mostly grateful for a favorable outcome, but they also know the Chinese aren’t just going to flick the switch and play super nice.

Jennifer Diggins, director of public affairs for Nucor Corp., weighed in on the news. “We very much welcome the decision and thank USTR for its critical role in the process,” Diggins said in an email. “This is an important decision and reminds our trading partners that barriers to exports will not be tolerated.”

Nucor has been at the forefront of the industry as far as advocating for trade fairness between the US, China and other nations.

Diggins, among other leaders in the domestic steel industry, will be speaking at our upcoming conference, Commodity Edge: Sourcing Intelligence for a New Normal. (Click below for more info…)

–Taras Berezowsky