Articles in Category: Global Trade

Japan map

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Japan’s steel sector is facing tumultuous times.

But, in the short term, there are initial signs of it pulling through in 2021.

Are you on the hook for communicating the company’s steel performance to the executive team? See what should be in that report

Pandemic impacts on Japan’s steel sector

The COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the weakening of domestic needs. Furthermore, tepid global demand, cheaper exports by China and an ambitious net-zero emission target to develop cleaner steel have all come together to negatively affect the country’s steel sector.

According to an S&P Global Platts report, Japan’s iron and steel product exports fell 4.9% year over year to 32.14 million metric tons (MT) in 2020.

Quoting from data from the Japan Iron & Steel Federation, the report noted total exports to the US fell 30.5% year over year to 890,000 MT. That marked the fourth straight year of decline since reaching 2.06 million MT in 2016.

A slight recovery in December saw exports rise by 5% from November to 2.56 million MT. Hot-rolled wide strip steel accounted for the bulk of the ordinary steel products exported.

In fact, for the first time since 2009, as the S&P Global Platts report noted, Japan’s crude steel production fell below the 100 million MT mark.

Production fell 16.2% year over year to 83.19 million MT in 2020, according to the World Steel Association.

The country’s crude steel output fell 3.9% in January this year from a year earlier.

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U.S. trade

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This morning in metals news: the US international goods trade deficit moved up slightly from December to January; meanwhile, MetalMiner sister site SpendMatters took to LinkedIn for feedback on President Joe Biden’s executive order on supply chains; and, lastly, Sweden will be home to what will reportedly be the world’s largest “green hydrogen plant.”

US trade deficit rises in January

The US trade deficit in January reached $83.7 billion, the Census Bureau reported.

The trade deficit increased from $83.2 billion in December.

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Spend Matters analyst looks at Biden administration’s supply chain executive order

Speaking of the trade deficit and trade in general, in light of President Joe Biden signing an executive order to address US supply chain problems for semiconductor chips, large-capacity batteries for electric vehicles, rare earth minerals and pharmaceuticals, Spend Matters analyst Pierre Mitchell took to LinkedIn to get a conversation started.

“Hey, if a 78-year-old guy from Scranton gets it, maybe more C-level execs will finally now get serious about supply chain risk management,” Mitchell writes. “Actually, most do, especially after the pandemic, but it’s still depressing when so many wait until they get a major disruption. Is this finally a sea change … or ‘C-change’?”

MetalMiner’s Stuart Burns recently outlined the geopolitical chess game taking place over rare earth materials.

To be a part of the conversation, engage with Mitchell’s post on LinkedIn to voice your opinions.

World’s largest ‘green hydrogen plant’

Steelmaking is a traditionally high-polluting industry. But, slowly but surely, steelmakers around the world are touting newfound green bona fides.

CNBC reported yesterday that Sweden could soon be home to the “world’s largest green hydrogen plant.”

The firm, H2 Green Steel, will aim to provide the European market with steel made with a “fossil-free manufacturing process,” CNBC reported.

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tariffs headline over $100 bills

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Whether the new Biden administration creates a more insightful or sophisticated approach to trade remains to be seen.

But, if nothing else, a new administration is a chance for a reset on policies that have not worked as intended under a previous administration.

Aluminum tariff policy

The previous administration’s Section 232 tariffs on aluminum of 10% were well intentioned. The tariffs aimed to try to reverse the decline in US domestic aluminium smelting capacity.

In recognition of aluminum’s role in defense and aerospace applications, the government viewed the growing level of imports as a threat to national security. As such, creating a barrier to imports intended to allow US smelters to operate profitably and encouraged firms to reopen idled capacity. Furthermore, the hope was that, in time, firms would open new smelters.

The previous decade had been brutal for the US aluminium smelting industry.

By 2017, capacity utilization had fallen to 37%, according to Reuters.

Many hailed the strategy as a savior for the smelting industry. However, consumers would ultimately have to pay the bill.

Are you under pressure to generate aluminum cost savings? Make sure you are following these five best practices

Flaws in the plan

But even accepting that the COVID-19 pandemic made 2020 a far from typical year, it has become clear the tariff strategy has not worked on a number of levels.

While the inflationary cost of finished goods has been minor, the aluminum content even of a can of beer is a small fraction of the total product cost. It remains true that consumers have had to foot the bill.

It was always the intention that domestic producers would raise their prices to the import plus tariff price. The corresponding uplift was what was supposed to allow them to operate profitably again, to arrest the decline and reopen idled capacity.

Annualized production rose to 1.15 million tons at the end of 2018 from 750,000 tons a year earlier. The increase, however, proved short-lived. By the end of last year, national annualized production had fallen to 920,000 tons and capacity utilization to about 50%, Reuters reported.

Equally worrying the post states, there has been no new smelting capacity. The United States remains as dependent as ever on imports of primary metal.

Aluminum tariff and Canada

Buyers will remember the spike in prices that followed the reinstatement of tariffs on Canadian aluminium predicated on the “surge in imports,” as the Trump administration claimed at the time.

The reality was Canadian-origin metal had simply made up for the absence of Russian metal following Rusal’s pivot away from the US, largely to Asian markets, following the earlier sanctions on owner Oleg Deripaska. Russian imports collapsed from 725,000 tons in 2017 to only 136,000 tons last year. Shipments from Canada simply filled the gap, rising 10% in 2019.

The previous administration seemed to accept that imports from Canada should not be considered a strategic risk. Ultimately, it removed the tariff in September 2020.

But what of potential suppliers elsewhere? Would it not be of value to the US to widen its non-tariff supply base?

Biden rescinded permission to exempt the UAE recently for what seemed like political rather than national security reasons. China has never exported primary metal, so it remains irrelevant to this policy.

The years ahead

How the US handles imports of semi-finished products going forward will be the topic of a separate post. The US has inherited a fractious trade landscape as a result of the last few years.

It does so at a time of a fundamental re-evaluation of its trade priorities. Many would argue that re-evaluation is long overdue.

That re-evaluation includes its relationship with China. In that vein, the US is better off by working in cooperation with its allies and neighbors than the unilateral policies of the previous administration that have largely failed to deliver benefits.

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rare earths loaded on cargo ship in China

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Although presented as the evil machinations of an enemy state, a recent Financial Times article lays out the rare earths dilemma China faces.

Rare earths in the crosshairs

Rare earths industry executives made unofficial statements indicating Chinese government officials had asked them how badly companies in the US and Europe, including defense contractors, would be affected if China restricted rare earth exports during a bilateral dispute.

The conversations should be seen against the backdrop of moves last month by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

The ministry proposed draft controls on the production and export of 17 rare earth minerals from China. Although China doesn’t control the world supply of mined ores, it does dominate the refining into useable salts and metals, controlling about 80% of global supply.

Nonetheless, the country itself remains at risk to unstable ore supplies from countries like Myanmar. That may help explain Beijing’s tacit support for the recent military coup there.

The US even sends its ores to China for refining. That’s not because it doesn’t have the technical knowhow; the US simply lacks the facilities. Furthermore, China is more willing to tolerate the environmental damage from the dreadfully polluting refining process.

The MetalMiner Best Practice Library offers a wealth of knowledge and tips to help buyers stay on top of metals markets and buying strategies.

Rare earths supply dependence

This lack of refining capacity leaves the US and most of its Western allies horribly exposed.

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US and UAE flags

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Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the week that was and the metals storylines here on MetalMiner, including the Biden administration reimposing a tariff on aluminum from the UAE, copper demand and much more.

The MetalMiner Best Practice Library offers a wealth of knowledge and tips to help buyers stay on top of metals markets and buying strategies.

Week of Feb. 8-12 (Biden administration reinstates UAE aluminum tariff, copper demand and more)

Stop obsessing about the actual forecasted aluminum price. It’s more important to spot the trend.

import tariff

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This morning in metals news: the Coalition of American Metal Manufacturers and Users called on the Biden administration to rescind the Section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs; meanwhile, the Energy Information Administration forecasts US energy-related CO2 emissions to rise after the mid-2030s; and, lastly, US President Joe Biden spoke this week with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

CAMMU urges Biden to ends Section 232 tariffs

The Coalition of American Metal Manufacturers and Users (CAMMU) sent President Joe Biden a letter Wednesday urging him remove the Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum.

In 2018, former President Donald Trump imposed the tariffs of 25% for steel and 10% for aluminum.

“By taking action to terminate the Trump tariffs, your Administration can prevent U.S. manufacturers from shutting down production lines, laying off workers, and potentially even closing their doors,” CAMMU said in the letter. “By contrast, the ripple effects of allowing these Section 232 tariffs to remain are substantial. Our member companies report not only record steel prices, but also delivery times stretching 12-16 weeks, causing significant disruptions.”

As we noted previously, however, Biden reversed Trump’s decision to rescind the tariff on aluminum from the UAE (a move he made on his final day in office).

See why technical analysis is a superior forecasting methodology over fundamental analysis and why it matters for your aluminum buy.

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judge's gavel

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This morning in metals news: the United States Court of International Trade issued a ruling on the Section 232 steel tariff; meanwhile, the Biden administration has reversed a Trump administration decision regarding tariffs on aluminum from the United Arab Emirates; and, lastly, new orders for manufacturing goods rose for an eighth consecutive month in December.

USCIT dismisses Section 232 steel tariff challenge

In early 2018, former President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. Using Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, Trump imposed tariffs of 25% for steel and 10% for aluminum.

It is unclear if the new Biden administration will ultimately rescind the tariffs in a blanket sense (more on that shortly).

However, a trade court has shot down a legal challenge from domestic businesses.

Universal Steel Products, Inc., PSK Steel Corporation, The Jordan International Company, Dayton Parts, LLC, and Borusan Mannesman Pipe U.S. Inc. challenged the steel tariff, claiming injury from the duty.

The plaintiffs argued procedural deficiency behind the Section 232 implementation process. In addition, they claimed the president and then-Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross did not identify an “impending threat” when imposing the tariffs. They also claimed Trump violated provisions of Section 232 by not setting a duration for the action.

However, the three-judge panel on the United States Court of International Trade opted to dismiss the plaintiffs’ cross-motion for partial summary judgment.

“There have been proposals put forward suggesting greater Congressional oversight, including hearings, or statutory amendments which would expand Congress’s role in the implementation and review of tariffs,” Judge Gary S. Katzmann said in his opinion. “Ultimately, of course, these are policy matters that fall within the province of the legislative branch; it is not the role of the court to opine about them.”

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Biden to reverse Trump course on UAE aluminum tariff

In other tariff news, Trump — in his final hours as president — moved to rescind the Section 232 aluminum tariff of 10% for imports from the UAE.

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India

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A budgetary proposal by the Indian government to reduce steel duties has divided the Indian steel sector.

India proposes reduction in steel duties

In her 2021 budget speech presented in parliament earlier in the week, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman proposed reducing customs duty on imports of semi-flat steel. She proposed cutting the duy for the steel, used to make ships, bridges, line pipes and other equipment, from 12.5% to 7.5%.

Furthermore, the customs duty on longs — used to make rails and wire rods — may also be reduced from the present 10% to 7.5%.

Another proposal called for revoking anti-dumping and countervailing duties on straight length bars and rods of alloy steel, high-speed steel of non-cobalt grade flat-rolled product of steel, plated or coated with an alloy of aluminum or zinc.

At least initially, the move could be interpreted as India opening its doors to cheaper steel and reducing the tax on shipments of the alloy amid surging prices at home.

The chief executives of some of global steelmakers such as JSW and Tata Steel have opined that this would not allow any increase of flow in these steel items. Meanwhile, others fear it will have a negative impact on the profitability of domestic players.

The MetalMiner Best Practice Library offers a wealth of knowledge and tips to help buyers stay on top of metals markets and buying strategies.

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mining

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This morning in metals news: US mines produced approximately $82.3 billion in minerals in 2020; meanwhile, the United States International Trade Commission launched a Section 337 investigation related to batteries; and, lastly, aluminum prices have been dropping.

US mines produced $82.3 billion in minerals in 2020

US mines produced approximately $82.3 billion in minerals last year, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) reported Tuesday.

The totaled marked a decline of $1.5 billion from 2019.

“Decision-makers and leaders in both the private and public sectors rely on the crucial, unbiased statistics and data provided in the Mineral Commodity Summaries to make business decisions and determine national policy,” said Steven M. Fortier, director of the National Minerals Information Center. “Industries—such as steel, aerospace and electronics—that use nonfuel mineral materials created an estimated $3.03 trillion in value-added products in 2020, which represents a 3% decrease from that in 2019.”

The US, however, continues to be heavily import-dependent for many raw and processed minerals. According to the USGS, imports made up more than half of US consumption of 46 nonfuel mineral commodities. Furthermore, the US was totally import-dependent for 17 of those.

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USITC launches Section 337 battery investigation

The USITC announced it had launched a Section 337 probe involving potential patent infringements related to batteries, citing 13 Chinese firms as respondents in the case.

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General Motors headquarters in Detroit, Michigan

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Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the week that was and the metals storylines here on MetalMiner.

In sustainability news, Big 3 automaker General Motors said it intends to be carbon neutral in its operations by 2040. The automaker has also indicated it will offer 30 new all-electric models by mid-decade, as it — like other traditional automakers — aims to catch up to Tesla in the electric vehicle market.

In other news, US GDP gained by 4% in the fourth quarter of 2020. Meanwhile, US steel imports increased in December and the copper price rise has slowed down in recent weeks.

Week of Jan. 25-29 (General Motors makes carbon pledge, copper prices and more)

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