So far this year, the U.S. has imported 19.6% more steel than it did through the same time frame last year, according to data released by the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) on Wednesday.
According to preliminary Census Bureau data cited by AISI, through the first nine months of 2017, total and finished steel imports amounted to 29,663,000 and 22,890,000 net tons (NT), respectively. Compared with the first nine months of 2016, total and finished steel imports are up 19.6% and 15.7%, respectively.
Finished steel import market share was an estimated 27% in September, a percentage point below the 28% year-to-date market share. Estimated finished steel import market share peaked in June — around the same time as the Trump administration’s first self-imposed Section 232 steel probe deadline, which came and went without a decision (and remains outstanding) — when it eclipsed the 30% mark.
By item, a number of steel product imports jumped significantly in September compared with the previous month. Those spikes include: reinforcing bars (up 85%), line pipe (up 35%), tin plate (up 31%), oil country goods (up 23%) and plates in coils (up 11%).
In the year to date, imports of oil country goods (up 255%), line pipe (up 60%), standard pipe (up 45%), mechanical tubing (up 32%), cold rolled (up 28%), sheets and strip all other metallic coatings (up 26%), sheets and strip hot dipped galvanized (up 22%) and hot rolled bars (up 19%) all posted notable increases.
South Korea once again emerged as the top steel exporter to the U.S. last month. In descending order by volume, the top exporters to the U.S. were: South Korea (321,000 NT, down 11% from August), Japan (169,000 NT, up 32%), Germany (151,000 NT, up 53%), Taiwan (120,000 NT, down 2%) and Turkey (112,000 NT, up 5%).
South Korea also leads the way through the first nine months of the year, sending 2,949,000 NT to the U.S. (down 2% versus the same period in 2016), followed by Turkey (1,944,000 NT, up 5%), Japan (1,234,000 NT, down 14%), Taiwan (1,026,000 NT, up 36%) and Germany (1,001,000 NT, up 6%).
Speaking of Section 232, the Trump administration’s probe of the national security implications of steel imports, the wait continues for a ruling. The probe, launched in April, carries a Jan. 15 deadline. At that point, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is required to present the president with a report detailing findings and recommendations. If Ross determines the imports are a threat, the president then 90 days to decide if he agrees and whether or not to use his statutory authority to adjust import levels.
Mid-summer optimism from domestic producers, who expected the Trump administration to enact some sort of trade remedy (whether in the form of tariffs, quotas or a combination of the two) has waned. With NAFTA, health-care reform, tax reform, immigration and a number of other issues dominating the administration’s focus, Section 232 chatter has seemed to die down in recent months.
U.S. steel producers are still holding out hope for Section 232 action addressing the rise of imports. Nucor CEO and Chairman John Ferriola touched on the issue of imports during the company’s third-quarter earnings call last week.
“Nucor continues to believe significant work remains to be done to achieve free and fair trade for U.S. manufacturers,” Ferriola said during the call. “More specifically, it’s time for comprehensive and broad-based remedies that address the illegal foreign trade practices that have materially weakened our nation’s economic vitality.”
The last Section 232 probe took place in 2001, when the George W. Bush administration looked into imports of iron ore and semi-finished steel. Ultimately, it was determined those imports did not pose a threat to the country’s national security.
This time around, U.S. producers are hoping for a different determination.