Articles in Category: Public Policy

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This afternoon in metals news, renegotiation efforts focused on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) appear to be at a standstill, Chile’s state copper commission boosts its 2018 copper forecast and a European agency advises plane manufacturers to suspended their use of products from embattled Japanese steelmaker Kobe Steel.

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NAFTA Deadlock

The fourth round of renegotiation talks regarding the 23-year-old NAFTA concluded yesterday, but the U.S., Mexico and Canada appear to be no closer to a consensus.

According to Bloomberg, initial hopes for a quick resolution have fizzled, as talks will now be extended into 2018 (which was previously hoped to be avoided, given the scheduled elections in each country next year).

The next round of talks is scheduled for Nov. 17-21 in Mexico.

Cochilco Forecasts Copper at Nearly $3/Pound in 2018

Chile’s state copper commission, Cochilco, on Wednesday put out a forecast for 2018 including a prediction of the average global copper price hitting $2.95/pound.

The new forecast is up significantly from Cochilco’s mid-year estimate of $2.68/pound. Greater Chinese demand is cited as a supporter of the global price.

Kobe Steel Saga Continues

The fallout from the Kobe Steel data falsification scandal continues, as the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) advised plane manufacturers to suspend their use of products from the firm, the third-largest steelmaker in Japan, according to CNN Money.

According to the report, EASA advised those manufacturers to find alternative suppliers and conduct a “thorough review of their supply chain.”

Free Download: The October 2017 MMI Report

A number of global heavyweights use Kobe Steel products, including GM, Boeing, Ford and Toyota, according to the report.

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The United States International Trade Commission last week announced it is launching an investigation related to the importation of something that is often considered the wave of the future: automation systems.

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The USITC announced it launched a Section 337 investigation last Wednesday. Section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930 determines whether there is unfair competition in the importation of products into, or their subsequent sale in, the United States, including the infringement of a U.S. patent, copyright, registered trademark or mask work.

The investigations stems from a complaint filed Sept. 6 by Rockwell Automation, Inc., of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“The products at issue in the investigation include components used in the complainant’s industrial automation systems that bear the complainant’s Allen-Bradley® trademarks and that use the complainant’s copyrighted software and firmware,” the USITC announcement reads.

According to the complaint, the respondents allegedly violated Section 337 with respect to the importation and sale of “certain industrial automation systems and components thereof including control systems, controllers, visualization hardware, motion and motor control systems, networking equipment, safety devices, and power supplies that infringe trademarks and copyrights asserted by the complainant.”

In addition, Rockwell is asking for a general exclusion order, and cease and desist orders.

The following firms were listed as respondents in the case:

  • Can Electric Limited of Guangzhou, Guangdong, China
  • Capnil (HK) Company Limited of Hong Kong
  • Fractioni (Hongkong) Ltd. of Shanghai, China
  • Fujian Dahong Trade Co., Ltd., of Fujian, China
  • GreySolution Limited d/b/a Fibica of Hong Kong
  • Huang Wei Feng d/b/a A-O-M Industry of Shenzhen, China
  • KBS Electronics Suzhou Co., Ltd., of Shanghai, China
  • PLC-VIP Shop d/b/a VIP Tech Limited of Hong Kong
  • Radwell International, Inc., d/b/a PLC Center of Willingboro, NJ
  • Shanghai EuoSource Electronic Co., Ltd., of Shanghai, China
  • ShenZhen T-Tide Trading Co., Ltd., of Shenzhen, China
  • SoBuy Commercial (HK) Co. Limited of Jiangsu, China
  • Suzhou Yi Micro Optical Co., Ltd., d/b/a Suzhou Yiwei Guangxue Youxiangongsi d/b/a Easy Micro-optics Co. LTD. of Suzhou, Jiansu, China
  • Wenzhou Sparker Group Co. Ltd., of Wenzhou, China
  • Yaspro Electronics (Shanghai) Co., Ltd., of Shanghai, China

Free Download: The October 2017 MMI Report

USITC rules dictate that it will issue a target date for completion of the investigation within 45 days of launching one, meaning the Commission will set a target date by Nov. 25 in this case.

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Trade negotiators from the U.S., Canada and Mexico are back at it again, working to tweak — or in some cases, totally alter — the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

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Representatives from the three countries came together beginning last week for the fourth round of talks focused on the renegotiation of NAFTA, the 23-year-old trilateral trade deal.

The talks started Oct. 11 in Arlington, Va., and are scheduled to continue until Oct. 17.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer issued a statement opening the fourth round of talks.

The officials are scheduled to work on two dozen discussion topics during this round of talks, and recently finished a chapter on competition. According to a USTR release, the updated NAFTA Competition Chapter “goes beyond anything the United States has done in previous free trade agreements.”

“I am pleased to welcome back Secretary Guajardo, Minister Freeland, and their teams to continue negotiations here in Washington,” Lighthizer said in the prepared statement. “Thus far, we have made good progress, and I look forward to several days of hard work.”

Even so, cracks seem to be forming in the dialogue that threaten the stability of the talks and, consequently, the agreement.

As has been mentioned before, President Donald Trump reportedly nearly withdrew the U.S. from the trade deal in April until talks with the Mexican and Canadian leaders convinced him otherwise.

In recent months, Trump has resumed with threats against the deal, which he once called possibly the worst trade deal ever. Renegotiating the deal has always been a primary goal for Trump, with the understanding that should a favorable deal fail to materialize, he would withdraw the U.S. from it.

So far, the threats to withdraw from the deal have been just that: threats.

However, those threats have seemed to pick up as negotiations have continued. And when it come to negotiations, reports indicate a number of the U.S. delegation’s proposals are not going to go over well with their fellow NAFTA partners.

On Thursday, Reuters reported that the U.S. negotiating team suggested any approved deal should include a five-year sunset clause, meaning the deal would have to be effectively re-approved by all three countries in five years or it dissolves.

Naturally, this has a number of stakeholders feeling nervous, as such a sunset clause, businesses argue, creates uncertainty. With increasingly interconnected and entrenched supply chains, business interests view a sunset clause as a non-starter, as do Canada and Mexico.

In other policy proposals, Reuters reported Friday that the U.S. is pushing stricter rules on automotive content, particularly with respect to aluminum, steel, copper and plastic resins, in an effort to up the level of automotive materials sourced in North America.

As the talks continue, United Steelworkers again urged the administration to consider workers.

“It’s no surprise that business groups are concerned that NAFTA’s outsourcing provisions may be dramatically altered, and that provisions might be included to develop an agreement that is fairer to workers,” a USW release last week said. “Organized labor is working with the Administration to advance proposals that will promote growth and opportunity for workers in all three countries. A deal that achieves those goals would be worthy of our support.

“Businesses have set the agenda for far too long and the result has been rising trade deficits, lost jobs, devastated communities and rising income inequality.”

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The talks are scheduled to wrap up tomorrow, Oct. 17. According to the USTR, a trilateral press event including Lighthizer, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Mexican Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal.

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This morning in metals news, NAFTA renegotiation talks continued with the U.S. aiming to tighten automotive content rules in favor of North American-made metals, Allegheny Technologies Incorporated (ATI) commented on its Q3 earnings and Alcoa reached an early termination agreement for a power contract tied to one of its Texas smelters.

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U.S. Looks for Stricter Auto Content Rules

Trade negotiators from the U.S., Canada and Mexico are in Arlington, Va., until Oct. 17, engaged in a fourth round of talks focused on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

According to a Reuters report this morning, the U.S. is seeking stricter rules for automotive content, demanding a higher percentage of the materials — including aluminum and steel — that go into automotive manufacturing should come from North America.

According to the report, the proposal — which includes aluminum, steel, copper and plastic resins — would place those materials on the auto parts tracing list for the first time in the history of the 23-year-old trilateral trade agreement.

ATI Expects Q3 Results to Meet July Outlook

ATI commented on third quarter financial results on Thursday, and announced a non-cash net of tax charge of $114 million, or $(1.05) per share, for goodwill impairment related to the Cast Products business.

“Excluding the goodwill impairment charge, we expect our third quarter 2017 results to be in line with our outlook provided in July,” said Rich Harshman, ATI’s chairman, president and chief executive officer, in a company release.

Alcoa Announces End of Power Contract Agreement

On Friday morning, Alcoa announced power provider Luminant Generation Company LLC has terminated the electricity contract tied to Alcoa’s Rockdale Operations in Texas.

The smelter at Rockdale has been fully curtailed since the end of 2008, according to the Alcoa release. The termination of the contract was effective Oct. 1.

Free Download: The October 2017 MMI Report

Alcoa expects an annual improvement to net income and adjusted EBITDA of $60 million to $70 million as a result of the contract termination, beginning in the fourth quarter of 2017.

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Aluminum industry officials restated a long-held stance that in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Section 232 investigation into aluminum imports, China should be the primary focus of any trade action.

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During a roundtable conference Wednesday, Oct. 4, in Washington D.C., Michelle O’Neill, Alcoa’s senior vice president for global government affairs and sustainability (and newly elected chairwoman of the Aluminum Association); Ganesh Paneer, vice president and general manager of Automotive North America for Novelis; and Garney B. Scott, president and CEO of Scepter, answered questions about the state of the aluminum industry and outstanding trade legislation in the Department of Commerce.

O’Neill said the Aluminum Association will soon release a new statistical review of the aluminum market through 2016.

Citing shipment figures, O’Neill said overall demand is high, with shipments of aluminum from the U.S. and Canada up 40% from the trough of the recession in 2009 and “within striking distance “of record shipment numbers in 2005-2006. In that same vein, Paneer noted aluminum’s growing market share in the automotive market as another indicator of the versatile metal’s strength.

Despite these figures, however, the officials reiterated concerns about leveling the global trade playing field.

Scott, O’Neill’s predecessor as chairman of the Aluminum Association, said one of the Association’s biggest efforts is ensuring U.S. aluminum producers, recyclers and fabricators get to operate in a “predictable regulatory environment” and in a “rules-based global trading system internationally.”

In that vein, Scott referred to the levels of aluminum coming into the U.S.

“We continue to have a serious issue with the aluminum supply coming into the U.S.,” he said. “Last year saw record levels of imported aluminum into North America and more specifically the United States. The 13.1 billion pounds of imports accounted for more than half of U.S. supply.”

Scott further zeroed in on the problem, noting that while imports in general aren’t always a negative, the volume of imports from China continues to be a problem for the U.S. aluminum industry.

“While this industry has many responsible trading partners and does not view all imports as a problem, we do take issue when we see imports surg2ing from a country like China that operates outside the bounds of our global system of rules-based trade,” Scott said.

Imports from China have increased 200% since 2012, Scott said, and in the year to date are up 30%.

“These imports are a direct result of metal overcapacity,” he said.

He added that a negotiated agreement between the U.S. and Chinese governments is needed.

Recently, the Commerce Department opted to defer the issuance of a preliminary antidumping duty determination in its investigation of aluminum foil from China. Underpinning the deferral was a desire to incorporate information regarding the ongoing study of China’s non-market economy status. According to a Commerce Department release, rulings on China’s status and on aluminum foil will come no later than Nov. 30.

As for Section 232 — the administration’s investigation into the national security implications of aluminum (and steel) imports — there hasn’t been much chatter since the early summer, when an announcement appeared to be coming, but the administration’s self-imposed June deadline came and went.

“We’re in wait-and-see mode,” Scott said regarding the Section 232 investigation.

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According to the law, once a Section 232 investigation is launched, the secretary of commerce has 270 days to present findings and recommendations to the president, which makes for January deadlines for both the pending aluminum and steel investigations.

As for the ongoing talks geared toward renegotiating the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Scott emphasized the industry’s trade ties with Mexico and Canada, adding that the industry isn’t looking for a “significant amount of changes” with respect to NAFTA.

Trade negotiators from the U.S., Canada and Mexico recently met in Ottawa in late September for a third round of negotiations focusing on NAFTA.

This morning in metals news, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it will take steps to repeal the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, copper hit a four-week high and two Russian tycoons are selling a 3% stake in aluminum giant Rusal.

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Obama Initiative to Curb Emissions to be Rolled Back: EPA

The EPA announced Monday that it would begin to take steps to roll back the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which sought to bring down emissions from power plants, The New York Times reported.

While constituting a loss for the environment, the measure marks a win for industry. (For a review of the costs associated with the plan, our Taras Berezowsky delved into the issue in this 2015 post.)

Scott Pruitt, head of the EPA, made the announcement in Kentucky yesterday.

“The war on coal is over,” Pruitt said, as quoted by The New York Times. “Tomorrow in Washington, D.C., I will be signing a proposed rule to roll back the Clean Power Plan. No better place to make that announcement than Hazard, Ky.”

The repeal proposal will be filed with the Federal Register today. The EPA announced its launch of a review of the plan on April 4.

Copper Bounces Back

After a cooling down in September, copper has hit a four-week high, Reuters reported.

The uptick comes as a function of expected supply shortages in China, according to the report.

Rusal Stake to Be Sold Off

Russian tycoons Mikhail Prokhorov (who also owns the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets) and Viktor Vekselberg are selling a 3% stake in aluminum giant Rusal, Reuters reported.

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The value of the 3% stake is worth $341 million based on Rusal’s closing price Tuesday, Reuters reported.

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

This morning in metals news, the U.S. Department of Commerce has delayed ruling on whether or not to consider China a market economy, the Commerce Department also deferred a preliminary ruling on Chinese aluminum foil, and also issued a preliminary determination in an antidumping duty investigation of silicon from Australia, Brazil and Norway.

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Commerce Waits to Rule on China’s Market Economy Status

China officially became a member of the World Trade Organization in 2001, but its status as a market economy is still something of debate around the world.

In that vein, the U.S. Department of Commerce has elected to delay a ruling on whether to treat China as a market economy until after President Donald Trump’s upcoming trip to China, Bloomberg reported Thursday.

“In all cases, the Department conducts a full and fair assessment of the facts,” Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said Thursday, as quoted by Bloomberg. “This extension will ensure that the highest standards are followed in this case as we seek to guarantee fair treatment for U.S. workers and businesses.”

Trump will travel to Asia from Nov. 3-14, making stops in Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

For more information on China’s market economy status, make sure to visit our microsite on the issue.

Commerce Defers Aluminum Foil Ruling

In addition to the aforementioned, the Commerce Department announced it would defer a preliminary ruling in its antidumping investigation of aluminum foil imports from China.

“The deferral will allow the Commerce Department to fully analyze information pertaining to China’s status as a non-market economy (NME) country, which is being contemplated within the context of this AD investigation,” according to a Commerce Department release Thursday.

The Commerce Department announced it intends to issue a ruling on both China’s market economy status and Chinese aluminum foil imports no later than Nov. 30.

Commerce Issues Affirmative Determination in Silicon Investigation

The Commerce Department did, however, act in its investigation of silicon imports from a trio of countries.

On Thursday, Commerce issued an affirmative preliminary determination in its antidumping investigation of silicon imports from Australia, Brazil and Norway.

According to the Commerce Department announcement, exporters from Australia, Brazil, and Norway have sold the metal at rates ranging from 20.79%, 56.78% to 134.92%, and 3.74%, respectively, at less than fair value.

According to the Commerce Department, imports of silicon metal last year from Australia, Brazil, and Norway were valued at an estimated $33.9 million, $60.0 million, and $21.6 million, respectively.

The petitioner in the case is Globe Specialty Metals, Inc., which has production facilities in Alabama, New York, Ohio and West Virginia.

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A final determination in the case is scheduled to be announced Feb. 16.

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This morning in metals news, U.S. steel imports dipped in September, car sales in the U.K. fell last month and the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) launched a new Section 337 investigation.

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Steel Imports Drop, Still 19.3% Up on the Year

Using the Commerce Department’s most recent Steel Import Monitoring and Analysis (SIMA) data, the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) reported yesterday that U.S. steel imports dropped 15.7% in September from the previous month.

For the first nine months of the year, however, imports are up 19.3% to 29,587,000 net tons.

According to the data, through the first nine months of 2017 the largest offshore suppliers were South Korea (2,963,000 NT, down 1% from the same period in 2016), Turkey (1,919,000 NT, up 4%) and Japan (1,224,000 NT, down 15%).

The estimated steel import market share for the year to date is 27%, according to the data.

U.K. Car Sales Slow Down in September

New car sales in the U.K. dropped 9.3% in the month of September, marking the sixth consecutive month of drops, according to data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

There were 426,170 new units registered in September in the U.K. The September decline marked the first time September sales in the U.K. have dropped in six years.

USITC Launches Investigation into Thermoplastic-Encapsulated Electric Motors

The USITC announced a new investigation Thursday into thermoplastic-encapsulated electric motors, components, and products and vehicles using those motors.

According to the USITC release, “the products at issue in the investigation are automotive coolant pumps, water pumps, power steering motors, actuators, drive motors, transaxle assemblies, and other thermoplastic-encapsulated electric motors, and automobiles that contain such components.”

The investigation stems from a Sept. 5 complaint filed by Intellectual Ventures II LLC of Bellevue, Washington.

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“The complaint alleges violations of section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930 in the importation into the United States and sale of certain thermoplastic-encapsulated electric motors, components thereof, and products and vehicles containing same that infringe patents asserted by the complainant,” the release continues. “The complainant requests that the USITC issue a limited exclusion order and cease and desist orders.”

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

The U.S. Department of Commerce has recently issued preliminary determinations in countervailing duty (CVD) and antidumping investigations of imports from Japan, China, Romania, Kazakhstan and others.

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Last week, the department added Canada to the list, dropping a major countervailing duty on imports of large civil aircraft. The move, coincidentally, came just before the third round of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiation talks, which wrapped up Sept. 27 in Ottawa.

The Department of Commerce issued a preliminary determination early last week in its CVD investigation of imports of 100- to 150-seat large civil aircraft from Canada, resulting in a whopping 219.63% tariff on the CSeries of planes exported to the U.S. by Bombardier, Inc.

“The U.S. values its relationships with Canada, but even our closest allies must play by the rules,” Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a prepared statement. “The subsidization of goods by foreign governments is something that the Trump Administration takes very seriously, and we will continue to evaluate and verify the accuracy of this preliminary determination.”

According to the Department of Commerce’s preliminary ruling, exporters of the aircraft received countervailable subsidies of 219.63%.

The Commerce Department will instruct U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to collect cash deposits from importers of 100- to 150-seat large civil aircraft based on these preliminary rates.

The Boeing Company was the petitioner in the case. Petitions were filed April 27.

The ruling is a big win for Boeing — if it holds, that is — which as Bloomberg reported late last week, has developed an unlikely positive relationship with President Donald Trump.

However, as NAFTA negotiations unfold, such a move is sure to increase tensions. According to a recent Ipsos poll, just 33% of Canadians said renegotiating NAFTA was a good thing, compared with 48% of Americans and 46% of Mexicans — indicating, to an extent, that Canada is happy with the current order of business (of course, it’s just one poll).

Naturally, imposition of a nearly 220% tariff on any product, let alone large aircraft, is going to be a big deal. Bombardier’s stock dropped $0.07 from Sept. 28 to Oct. 1, from $1.82 to $.175 (a 3.7% drop). Boeing, meanwhile, closed at $253.70 on the New York Stock Exchange Sept. 26, compared to a closing price of $256 on Monday.

According to a Reuters report, threats of retaliation from Quebec were already being heard late last week.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard took the Commerce Department’s preliminary ruling very seriously.

“Boeing may have won a battle but, let me tell you, the war is far from over. And we will win,” Couillard said, according to the Reuters report.

The ruling is only preliminary, but it certainly ratchets up tensions in what has already been a NAFTA dialogue fraught with tension, in large part a result of the accelerated negotiating schedule.

In addition, the ruling is not the first one this year to target Canadian imports. On June 26, the department issued a preliminary ruling calling for duties of 30.88% to 17.41% on imports of softwood lumber from Canada.

Free Download: The September 2017 MMI Report

The Department of Commerce has launched 68 antidumping or CVD investigations this year between Jan. 20 and Sept. 20, representing a 45% increase in cases from the same time frame last year, according to the department’s release.

A final CVD determination in the investigation is scheduled for Dec. 12.

Steel prices in China have been rising, but iron ore prices have been falling — what’s going on there?

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China is shutting domestic iron ore mines at an accelerating rate, forcing steel companies to import iron ore from overseas, which would normally be supportive for the iron ore price.

The answer it would seem, as is so often the case, has more to do with speculators’ view of future fundamentals than actual current fundamentals.

Strong Chinese Demand for Steel

Steel prices in China are strong because steel demand remains robust, despite exports being crimped by protectionist measures in North America, Europe, India and elsewhere. Domestic demand is holding up well.

Meanwhile, supply-side action by Beijing is cutting swathes of steelmaking capacity. Initially, much of the cuts came to “illegal” production, such as EDF scrap based long products mills — which has happened largely under the radar — but also older, less efficient and more polluting steel plants. All of this follows Beijing’s pledge to cut 50 million tons this year as part of an environmental drive to reduce air pollution by November (the start of the winter heating season).

Source Financial Times

After strong price rises this year, investors have done well and are now taking their profits ahead of a perceived fall in demand, as steel curtailments really begin to bite later in the year. It would be a brave speculator who bet against the wave of negative sentiment toward the iron ore price, including even the Australian government, which has been warning of price falls.

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