While it might not draw the same attention as its steel counterpart, the Trump administration’s Section 232 investigation of aluminum imports is just as important to the U.S. aluminum industry.
Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 affords the president broad powers in determining whether certain imports have a negative effect on the country’s national security. First, the secretary of commerce must present the president with a report and recommendations on the import in question, within 270 days of launching an investigation. Then, the president has 90 days to act.
The last 232 probe came in 2001, when the Department of Commerce concluded imports of iron ore and semi-finished steel did not pose a national security threat.
Last April, the U.S. Department of Commerce launched a probe of steel imports, and officially launched an aluminum probe one week later. The department announced Jan. 11 that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross had sent his steel report on to President Trump.
Meanwhile, a similar announcement came down Monday morning, when the Department of Commerce announced Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross had sent his Section 232 aluminum report to President Trump on Friday.
“On Friday, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross formally submitted to President Donald J. Trump the results of the Department’s investigation into the effect of wrought and unwrought aluminum imports on U.S. national security,” the department release states. “After this submission, by law the President has 90 days to decide on any potential action based on the findings of the investigation. After the President’s decision is announced, the Department will publish a summary of the report in the Federal Register and make the report available to the public after removing any business confidential or classified material.”
Aluminum Association President and CEO Heidi Brock praised the administration for its commitment to trade enforcement.
“On behalf of the domestic aluminum industry, the Aluminum Association appreciates the president’s continued commitment to strong trade enforcement and a level playing field for U.S. producers,” Brock said in a prepared statement. “We expect that the report will recognize the significant role the aluminum industry plays in ensuring our nation’s security and welcome the opportunity to engage the administration on an appropriate remedy that will benefit the entire aluminum value chain. The association supports actions that specifically address Chinese overcapacity, and protect trading relationships between the U.S. and critical partner countries which are crucial to a thriving domestic aluminum industry.”
In the statement, the Aluminum Association reiterated its chance that any trade action should focus on Chinese overcapacity and should not negatively impact trading partners like Canada and the European Union. Any action “should address the needs of the domestic aluminum value chain, including both primary and downstream U.S. production. Specifically, any action should ensure that producers and fabricators of intermediate aluminum products used in manufacturing finished products experience beneficial effects,” the statement added.
The administration has been active in aluminum trade cases, even self-initiating anti-dumping and countervailing duty investigations — the first self-initiations by the department since 1991 — against common alloy aluminum sheet from China. The Department of Commerce last year also launched an anti-dumping probe of aluminum foil from China.
Through November of last year, the U.S. imported $14.667 billion in aluminum and bauxite imports, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, up from $11.125 billion in imports for the same period in 2016.
On the export side, the U.S. exported $7.13 billion in aluminum and bauxite through November 2017, and $7.87 billion in the same period of 2016.
According to the U.S. Geologic Survey, the U.S. imported a total of 393,000 metric tons (MT) of aluminum products from China from January-October 2017. By comparison, the U.S. imported: 2.62 million MT from Canada; 596,000 from Russia; 201,000 MT from Mexico; and 564,000 MT from the United Arab Emirates.
The U.S. imported a total of 5.8 million MT during that time period, while exporting 2.38 million MT.
Dating back to November, the Chinese government ordered aluminum smelters and refineries to cut back capacity in an effort to alleviate environmental effects of the industry, like smog. Even so, China’s aluminum output actually increased in December, Reuters reported, up 15.3% from November 2017.