Week-in-Review: Trump Gets Tough On Steel Imports but Does China Even Care?

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This week, President Donald Trump and the Department of Commerce used executive orders, new anti-dumping investigations, memoranda invoking national security concerns and other executive branch tools to get tough on foreign steel imports.

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Although Trump or Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross never overtly stated it, the target is clearly China and the global steel overcapacity that it’s the main culprit in creating. China’s steel exports hit a record 112.4 million metric tons in 2015, then dropped slightly to 108.49 mmt last year, as Chinese mills have been chastened by threats of a trade dispute.

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The Trump administration is using every tool in the box on steel overcapacity. Source: Adobe Stock/Argus.

To date, the Global Forum on Steel Overcapacity hasn’t caused overcapacity to come down very much. Can a section 232 investigation or other U.S.-only actions change that? The U.S. steel industry certainly seems to think so. Or it’s at least saying, “why not try?”

Steelmaker executives such as U.S. Steel CEO Mario Longhi and SSAB Americas President Chuck Schmitt flanked Trump and Ross at the memorandum-signing ceremony calling for the Section 232 investigation yesterday. The praise was universal from steel producers as one might expect, too. Still, Trump’s latest salvo on trade will renew concerns that China may retaliate.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said today the country needed to ascertain the direction of any U.S. investigation before it could make a judgment. There’s also the fact that Trump now claims that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping are the best of friends.

Chinese steel executives also repeated their mantra that overcapacity is not just China’s problem and it needs global coordination to resolve it, but also said it would be tough to rein in the sector.

“The Chinese government will not set export limits for the steel mills and could not keep track of every mill,” Li Xinchuang, vice chairman of the China Iron and Steel Association, told Reuters.

What may be more effective is rising steel prices in China and what looks more and more like a very real crackdown on pollution and dirty air in China. An early-year surge in Chinese steel prices has lifted the prices of its export products and China has lost its competitiveness with other markets. With coking coal prices increasing, Chinese steel prices could increase even more, which our Lead Forecasting Analyst, Raul de Frutos, pointed out this week.

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On a personal note, this will be my last MetalMiner week-in-review. I have thoroughly enjoyed informing all of you wonderful readers and site users about the latest developments in metals markets these last three years. Thank you for taking advantage of our services. It has been an honor.

 

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