Articles in Category: Global Trade

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This morning in metals news, the U.S. Department of Defense recently indicated it would prefer targeted tariffs as opposed to a blanket strategy, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will press President Donald Trump on an assurance last year that Australia would be exempted and London copper is down for the week.

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DoD Espouses Targeted Tariffs Approach

In light of the pending Section 232 probes of steel and aluminum imports, the Department of Defense said it would favor a more targeted approach to tariffs.

In addition, the DoD prefers a delay to any measures curbing aluminum imports, according to a Reuters report.

Turnbull Looks for U.S. to Honor Tariff Assurances

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull plans to discuss with President Trump on Saturday the assurances given last year that Australia would be spared from Section 232-related steel and aluminum tariffs, according to the Financial Review.

The recently released Section 232 reports make no mention of an exception for Australia. According to the Financial Review report, Turnbull will seek to revisit assurances made last July vis-a-vis a carve-out for Australia.

Copper Down on the Week

London copper and zinc dropped this week as a result of profit taking, Reuters reported. In addition, the dollar strengthened and uncertainty about demand in China contributed to the drop this week.

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According to the report, LME three-month copper dropped 0.7% to $7,110 a ton in official open outcry trading on Friday.

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This morning in metals, zinc and nickel dropped to their lowest prices in over a week, another country hints at retaliation vis-a-vis potential U.S. Section 232 tariffs and Chinese steel mills are looking to increase output before future cuts take hold.

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Nickel, Zinc Post Drops

Zinc and nickel prices posted their lowest prices in over a week as the Shanghai Futures Exchange opened back up for business on the heels of the Chinese New Year break, according to a Reuters report.

LME benchmark nickel fell 1.9% in official open outcry trading to $13,580 a ton, according to the report, while LME zinc fell 1.7% to $3,482 a ton.

Turkey Warns of Retaliation to 232 Tariffs

Turkey is the latest country to allude to retaliatory plans should the U.S. enact steel tariffs, according to Turkish news source Ahval.

According to the report, Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekçi that if there are complaints from Turkish producers regarding future 232-related steel tariffs, the country will look into retaliatory measures.

Chinese Steel Mills Look to Get Output Up Before Next Round of Cuts

According to a Reuters report, Chinese steel mills are looking forward to an increase in their output once government-mandated winter cuts end in March.

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The cuts, instituted from Beijing, aimed to bring down pollution in the country. According to the report, the country shut down half of all steel production in 28 cities this winter.

(Editor’s Note: In case you missed the previous installments of this series, check out Part 1 and Part 2.)

What About the Impact on U.S. Production?

The U.S. Department of Commerce. qingwa/Adobe Stock

First, the recommendations from the Department of Commerce apply to both primary (or upstream) and downstream production.

The upstream production refers to unwrought production, while downstream production consists of processing aluminum into semi-finished aluminum goods (such as rods, bar, sheets, plates, castings, forging and extrusions). The U.S. remains remains the second-largest aluminum producer, just behind  China.

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The main objective of the actions proposed by the Department of Commerce focused on downstream production. As previously stated, the Section 232 outcome seeks to restore the industry to 80% capacity utilization.

Therefore, aluminum production could increase (at least, domestically). Increasing the domestic capacity utilization rate up to 80% would mean more aluminum will be produced and consumed domestically.

Aluminum Carve-outs?

President Trump has yet to determine if all the report recommendations will be applied. MetalMiner believes that even if the quotas/tariffs implemented are lower than that indicated in the Section 232 aluminum report — meaning a lower tariff and, therefore, a reduced capacity utilization rate — aluminum products may not receive as many exemptions as steel products.  

Contrary to steel, most aluminum products can be produced domestically and therefore, aluminum would potentially require fewer carve-outs than steel.

Timing becomes an issue when considering the impact of the Section 232 aluminum investigation outcome.

For the aluminum industry, restarting idled capacity takes around 9 months. After that, each smelter needs to start running toward its optimal capacity, which also takes time. Realistically it may take 12-15 months of time to reach optimal production.

Trump will need to consider that timing in his decision. Without careful consideration, reducing aluminum imports could have a negative impact for U.S. aluminum buyers in the short term. 

Therefore, the president might need to take this into account and give some time for the industry to adapt to the new measures.

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Trade Wars: Hype or Reality?

We will address this issue in an upcoming post.

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This morning in metals news, U.S. raw steel production in the year to date is down 1.9%, South Korea announced it would consider going to the World Trade Organization (WTO) if the Trump administration goes with through with steel tariffs and copper prices slide as the U.S. dollar continues its recovery from last week’s three-year low.

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U.S. Raw Steel Production Falls

U.S. raw steel production fell 1.9% in the year to date as of Feb. 17 compared to the same period in 2017, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute’s weekly report.

The capability utilization during that time frame this year has been 73.6%. In the recently released Section 232 aluminum and steel reports, the Department of Commerce issued recommendations that included a stated desire to hit at least 80% in capability utilization for both steel and aluminum.

South Korea Could Take Case to WTO if U.S. Imposes Steel Tariffs

One question many have asked is what actions Section 232 tariffs might inspire from other countries.

In the case of South Korea, it announced it would consider appealing to the WTO if the U.S. decides to impose tariffs on steel, according to a Nikkei Asian Review report.

Copper Falls as Dollar Rebounds

The price of copper fell as the U.S. dollar strengthened Tuesday, according to Reuters.

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LME copper fell 0.7% to $7,071 per ton, according to the report.

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This morning in metals news, Japan urges caution in steel Section 232, Kazakhstan’s output of a number of metals jumped month over month in January and Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska will step down as president of Rusal and En+ Group.

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Japanese Steel Industry Asks for Caution in U.S. Section 232 Case

The Japanese steel industry called for caution from the United States in its upcoming Section 232 decision on steel, and appealed to the principles of free trade in the process, Reuters reported.

According to Kosei Shindo, chairman of the Japan Iron and Steel Federation, the recommendations laid out in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Section 232 steel report — which was released Friday — “violate the principles of free trade.”

Kazakhstan’s Cooper, Steel, Zinc Output Up in January

Output of copper, steel and zinc rose in Kazakhstan last month, according to Reuters.

Copper output, for example, jumped 11.1% year over year, according to the report.

Russian Billionaire to Step Down as President of Two Companies

Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska will step down as president of Rusal and En+ Group, Reuters reported.

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The decision comes on the heels of En+ becoming a publicly listed company after a share sale in November, according to the report.

When the Department of Commerce announced  last month that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross had forwarded his Section 232 steel report (and the following week, aluminum) to President Donald Trump, the details of the report were not made public.

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That changed Friday, as the department released the reports outlining the potential strategies recommended to Trump (who met with lawmakers earlier this week to discuss potential tariffs on steel and aluminum imports).

“The United States is the world’s largest importer of steel,” Ross said during a briefing Friday morning. “Our imports are nearly four times our exports.”

Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 grants the president authority to limit or restrict imports that are determined to have an impact on national security. The last 232 investigation came in 2001, when the George W. Bush administration investigated semi-finished steel and iron ore imports. (The Department of Commerce ultimately determined the imports did not negatively impact national security.)

The U.S. currently has 169 anti-dumping and countervailing duty orders in place for steel, which some critics have argued has served as only a patchwork defense. Of those 169 orders, 29 are against China, Ross added.

Laying the background for the proposals, Ross cited findings of the report, including the global rise in steelmaking capacity, which is up to 2.4 billion metric tons (a jump of 127% since 2000). In addition, global excess capacity is 700 million tons, with China’s excess capacity exceeding the total U.S. steelmaking capacity, according to the report.

“Excessive steel imports have adversely impacted the steel industry,” the report states. “Numerous U.S. steel mill closures, a substantial decline in employment, lost domestic sales and market share, and marginal annual net income for U.S.-based steel companies illustrate the decline of the U.S. steel industry.”

Steel Recommendations Include 24% Tariff on All Products From All Countries

The 232 steel report lays out a trio of options, ranging from a blanket, all-encompassing tariff structure to more targeted approaches:

  1. A global tariff of at least 24% on all steel imports from all countries
  2. A tariff of at least 53% on all steel imports from 12 countries (Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Egypt, India, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam) with a quota by product on steel imports from all other countries equal to 100% of their 2017 exports to the United States
  3. A quota on all steel products from all countries equal to 63% of each country’s 2017 exports to the United States

When asked how the department created the list of 12 countries included in the second option, Ross said the selection process wasn’t “formulaic,” but they considered things like the rate of expansion of capacity in recent years and the nature of the products being shipped to the U.S., among other things.

“Anything in trade is very, very complex,” Ross said. “And therefore [there’s] not a single factor. The  rate of increase in exports to the U.S. was in each case a big factor.”

Administration Looks to Provide Jolt to Aluminum Industry

As for aluminum, the three recommendations were:

  1. A tariff of at least 7.7% on all aluminum exports from all countries
  2. A tariff of 23.6% on all products from China, Hong Kong, Russia, Venezuela and Vietnam, with all other countries be subject to quotas equal to 100% of their 2017 exports to the United States
  3. A quota on all imports from all countries equal to a maximum of 86.7% of their 2017 exports to the United States.

According to Ross during a Friday morning briefing, the goal is to up the domestic aluminum industry’s capacity, currently hovering around 48%, to 80%. According to the aluminum report, the U.S. imported five times as much tonnage of primary aluminum as it produced in 2016, with the import penetration level rising to 90% from 65% in 2012.

As with steel, the aluminum report pointed to Chinese excess capacity.

“China’s industrial policies encourage development and domination of the entire aluminum production chain,” the report states. “These policies are further intended to stimulate the export of aluminum processed into sheets, plates, rods, bars, foils and other semi-manufactures and to target development of increasingly sophisticated and high-value product sectors such as automotive and aerospace.”

According to Section 232, Trump has 90 days as of receipt of Ross’ report to act. In the case of steel, that makes for an April 11 deadline, with an April 19 deadline set for aluminum.

The Section 232 investigations were launched last April, after which it seemed as if the administration would be set to release its reports by the end of June. But, June came and went without an announcement, as did the remainder of the calendar year. During that year, steel imports rose 15.4% year over year, according to American Iron and Steel Institute report citing U.S. Census Bureau data, leading some domestic industry figures to point out the delay’s impact on import levels.

Ross admitted that timeline was overly ambitious.

“We were a little bit over-optimistic about how quickly such a complicated topic could be brought to a head,” Ross said. “Government tends to move slowly. It’s one of the many lessons I’ve learned coming down here.”

The president does have the authority to revise any of the proposals and come to the table with a different policy solution.

“He will decide what he is going to do,” Ross said of Trump. “It’s not for me to speculate what action he might take. But I do reemphasize that he is not bound by these exact recommendations. He can do something totally different.”

In a release, Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, urged action.

“We believe the action must be broad, robust and comprehensive, and the Commerce Department report makes a compelling case for immediate action. Any exclusions deserve appropriate scrutiny. Otherwise, the Washington swamp will be filled with importers trying to undermine American jobs.

“American workers are counting on President Trump to stand up for them.”

In its own response to the release of the reports, the Aluminum Association reiterated past statements, chiefly to ask for a solution that specifically addresses China and does not harm market economy trading partners like Canada and the European Union.

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“We look forward to working with the president on a final decision that helps support continued growth in the U.S. aluminum industry,” said Heidi Brock, president and CEO of the Aluminum Association, in a prepared statement. “Ultimately, we favor a negotiated, enforceable government-to-government agreement with China on overcapacity.”

On the subject of retaliation and challenges to any potential trade action at the World Trade Organization, Ross pointed to other nations’ import barriers, citing the automobile tariffs among the U.S. (2.5%), E.U. (10%) and China (25%) as an example.

“There already are extreme protectionist measures,” he said. “I don’t believe there’s a country on the targeted list that we have that doesn’t have far more protective features on its industry than we do already.”

The full steel report is available on the Department of Commerce website, as is the full aluminum report.

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This morning in metals news, JFE Holdings Inc. in Japan plans to spend $6 billion on upgrades in the coming years, the Congressional Steel Caucus asked the administration for guidance on the Section 232 action timeline and Shanghai copper posted its biggest price jump since October.

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Japan’s JFE Holdings Looks to Lighter Steel

The parent company of Japan’s second-biggest steelmaker has plans to spend $6 billion to upgrade domestic facilities, according to a Reuters report.

JFE Holdings President Eiji Hayashida said the upgrades will focus on increased demand for lighter steel for the automotive industry, according to the report, in addition to materials for electric cars.

Congressional Steel Caucus Wants Clarity on 232 Timeline

On Monday, President Trump said he was “considering all options” on the Section 232 investigations of steel and aluminum imports.

According to the Northwest Indiana Times, the Congressional Steel Caucus has asked the administration to loop it in on a potential timeframe for 232-related action.

Shanghai Copper Posts Big Jump

The price of copper on the Shanghai Futures Exchange (ShFE) jumped by the biggest amount since October, Reuters reported.

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The most-traded April copper contract rose 1.8% to $8,323.87 per ton, according to the report.

The U.S. Department of Commerce. qingwa/Adobe Stock

This morning in metals news, the U.S. Department of Commerce kicks off a new anti-dumping and countervailing duty probe, China urges the U.S. to exercise restraint when it comes to tariffs on steel imports and President Trump plans to meet with lawmakers to discuss tariffs on metals.

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New DOC Investigation Targets Pipe From Six Nations

The Department of Commerce today announced the initiation of an anti-dumping and countervailing duty investigation of large diameter welded pipe from Canada, Greece, China, India, Korea and Turkey.

“With an 81 percent increase in trade cases initiated since President Trump took office, this Administration has made it clear that we will vigorously administer antidumping and countervailing duty laws,” Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a release. “When initiating a trade investigation, the Department of Commerce begins an open and transparent process that allows American companies and workers to gain relief from the market-distorting effects of injurious dumping and subsidization of imports.”

China Warns on Possible U.S. Tariffs

Chinese official on Tuesday urged the U.S. to show restraint when it comes to tariffs on steel, according to a Reuters report.

The official, Wang Hejun, who heads the Chinese Ministry of Commerce’s Trade Remedy and Investigation Bureau, said that protectionism would lead to a “vicious circle” of trade actions, according to the report.

Trump to Meet with Lawmakers to Talk Trade Tariffs

President Trump today is meeting with lawmakers to discuss potential tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and other trade issues, according to Bloomberg.

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Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross sent Trump his Section 232 recommendations for steel and aluminum last month. As of receipt of the reports, the president has 90 days to decide what to do.

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Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the week that was and some of the headlines here on MetalMiner:

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In an approximately 80-minute speech ranging from jobs and manufacturing to North Korea and Iran, President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address also touched on issues impacting the metals industry — albeit, perhaps not as directly as one might have expected.

(As a brief aside, according to the American Presidency Project, which tracks the length of State of the Union addresses, Trump’s speech was the third-longest since the speech lengths were tracked beginning with the Johnson administration. Bill Clinton’s State of the Union addresses of 1 hour, 24 minutes and 58 seconds and 1 hour, 28 minutes and 49 seconds are the only addresses longer than Trump’s speech last night.)

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Many in the metals industry were looking for good news regarding infrastructure (including, as we reported this morning, Nucor President and CEO John Ferriola during Tuesday’s quarterly earnings call). On that front, Trump called on Congress to put together a $1.5 trillion plan for infrastructure spending.

“Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment we need,” Trump said. “Every Federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with State and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private sector investment — to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit.”

He also referred to streamlining the construction permitting process and reclaiming the country’s “building heritage.”

However, for those in the metals industry looking for policy specifics, particularly with respect to trade cases, Trump did not offer much.

For those paying attention to the ongoing Section 232 probes of steel and aluminum imports – of which Chinese excess capacity and state-aided commodities is a focus of much discussion — the president did not refer to those, or any other ongoing trade cases. This isn’t necessarily surprising for a State of the Union address, which are often short on policy specifics or nitty gritty minutiae, a which Section 232, Section 301, and other anti-dumping and countervailable duty investigations could fall under, depending on whom you ask.

Even so, the omission stood out, even as China — along with Russia — was mentioned as a threat.

Trump mentioned China three times: twice during a story about a North Korean defector and another time in a general call for defense spending. (Reuters reported recently that Trump is expected to ask Congress for $716 billion in defense spending for 2019, which would mark a 7% increase from 2018.)`

“As we rebuild America’s strength and confidence at home, we are also restoring our strength and standing abroad,” the president said. “Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values. In confronting these dangers, we know that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means of our defense.”

In addition, the word “steel” was only mentioned once in the speech, and that in a metaphorical sense when extolling Americans’ perseverance and the “steel in America’s spine.” Aluminum was not mentioned once during the speech.

While anti-dumping and countervailable duty investigations didn’t get their time in the State of the Union sun, Trump did once again reiterate his stance on what he perceives as bad trade deals — particularly relevant in the shadow of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiation talks that concluded Monday in Montreal, capping the sixth round of talks focused on revamping the now 24-year-old trilateral trade deal.

On trade, Trump said the “era of economic surrender is over.”

Trump signed an executive order withdrawing the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership on his first day in office. He has also consistently attacked NAFTA, which he has called the worst trade deal ever made, citing the loss of American manufacturing and jobs.

“From now on, we expect trading relationships to be fair and to be reciprocal,” Trump said. “We will work to fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones. And we will protect American workers and American intellectual property, through strong enforcement of our trade rules.”
According to U.S. Census Bureau data through November, the U.S. had a $65.68 billion trade deficit with Mexico last year and a $15.33 billion deficit with Canada.
Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, was not impressed with Trump’s presentation on trade and infrastructure.

In general economic indicators, Trump touted job creation figures, saying that since the election (a time frame which of course includes the final months of the Obama administration), “we have created 2.4 million new jobs, including 200,000 new jobs in manufacturing alone.”

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2.1 millions jobs were added in the 2017 calendar year, down from 2.2 million in 2016.