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India’s trade tiff with the United States has all the hallmarks of a potential political battle — for India, at least. With general elections not too far away, it looks like Narendra Modi’s government does not want to really stir the pot, lest there is some fallout in the domestic political scene.

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That could be one of the reasons why the Indian government has chosen to defer a tit-for-tat duty on the import of over two dozen products from India, including certain flat-rolled stainless steel products. It was supposed to come into effect Aug. 8, but now the new date is Sept. 18.

Trade between India and the U.S. has been buffeted by many problems in the past few years. The hike in import duties on Indian goods coming into the U.S. a few months ago was one more such hiccup.

But the ruling dispensation here does not seem to want to take any chances. So, in a renewed effort to resolve the differences between the two countries, India’s Commerce Ministry has requested the Finance Ministry to extend the implementation of higher duties by 45 days.

The Trump administration had decided to hike the import duties on certain steel and aluminum products, not only from India but other countries, such as China, too.

Though the U.S. Trade Representative’s office had two rounds of dialogue with Indian officials, a settlement was not reached. Now, by deferring the retaliatory hike, the Indian government is hoping the issue can be resolved in the next 45 days.

On India’s list of increased duties are 29 products, which include walnuts, almonds, pulses, apples and non-iron.

Duty on flat-rolled iron products has been raised to 27.50% from 15%, while certain flat-rolled stainless steel products will now attract 22.50% duty (compared with the earlier 15%).

Besides the domestic political fallout, the Indian government may also be a bit apprehensive of the White House’s response and the potential for further targeted actions.

India is not really on the same plane as China vis-à-vis such import tariffs; Washington looks at New Delhi very differently than it does Beijing. For one, unlike China, India is not a major exporter of steel and aluminum to the U.S. In 2017, the U.S. accounted for about 2% of India’s steel exports.

Things between India and the U.S. are proceeding at a different level, evident from the fact that last week the U.S. Department of Commerce granted New Delhi a special status that gives the emerging market an automatic waiver for exports of certain military and dual-use technologies (much to the consternation of the Chinese). That could be another reason why the Indians have decided to hold off on enacting the retaliatory duties.

Steel Supplies Dumped in India

Meanwhile, some Indian newspaper reports have said following the duty hike, some countries like China and South Korea have stepped up the dumping of steel in India.

They are said to be diverting supplies from the U.S. and the European Union in massive volumes to beat the impact of a global tariff war. Quoting official data, the report said it suggested steel supplies from China, the world’s largest steel producer, surged to 362,000 tons in the April-June period, up 67% sequentially from the 217,000 tons in the previous quarter.

As Japan and Korea enjoy duty relief under their respective free-trade agreements with India, the imports from these countries are 10% cheaper than domestic steel.

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Importantly, while the combined steel exports by China, Japan and South Korea to the U.S. dropped 17%, or by 241,000 tons, in the April-June period vis-à-vis the previous quarter, their supplies to India rose by 459,000 tons, up 45% from the March quarter. This, said the report, clearly showed that Asian steelmakers were rerouting supplies, meant for the US and other nations, to India.

The Stainless Steel Monthly Metals Index (MMI) fell again this month. The slide of four points moved the index to 78 from the previous 82 reading. The index fell back to May 2018 levels.

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The index dropped due to a slight fall in LME nickel prices in July. However, LME nickel prices seem to have recovered again. Stainless steel surcharges also fell this month.

However, stainless steel surcharges remain in a strong uptrend.

LME Nickel

In July, nickel price momentum slowed slightly.

However, LME nickel prices — and the base metals complex, in general — are showing strength so far again this month.

Despite the two-month downtrend, nickel prices have remained in an uptrend since last summer (June-July), when prices started to increase sharply.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of FastMarkets

Prices fell starting in June 2018 from the $15,895/mt level toward the current $13,825/mt level. Buying volume appears stronger than selling volume and, therefore, supports the uptrend.

A fundamental tightness in the nickel market could also add more support to nickel prices.

The Philippines government confirmed that just 23 out of the 27 mines that operate in the world’s second-largest nickel-producing country will continue to operate. The remaining four will likely close. The decision comes from a previous report (released in July).

Domestic Stainless Steel Market

Domestic stainless steel surcharges fell for the first time since the beginning of the year.

The 316/316L-coil NAS surcharge fell to $1/pound, while the 304/304L decreased to 0.73/pound.

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

The pace of stainless steel surcharge increases seems to have slowed this month, along with steel (and stainless steel) price increases. However, stainless steel surcharges remain in a clear uptrend and are well above 2015-2017 lows.

What This Means for Industrial Buyers

Stainless steel price momentum slowed down slightly this month. However, both steel and nickel remain in a bull market.

Therefore, buying organizations may want to follow the market closely for opportunities to buy on the dips.

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Actual Stainless Steel Prices and Trends

Both Chinese 304 stainless steel coil and Chinese 316 stainless steel coil prices fell this month by 2.78%.

Chinese Ferrochrome prices decreased this month by 2.04%, to $1,930/mt.

Nickel prices fell 7.33% to $13,900/mt.

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The Rare Earths Monthly Metals Index (MMI) fell one point for an August reading of 18.

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Rare Earths and Trade Tensions

Much has been said about the rise of trade tensions around the world, particularly between the U.S. and China.

Those tensions began to manifest in the form of the Trump administration’s steel and aluminum tariffs this past spring, which, in addition to China, have affected U.S. allies.

But what about the impact of trade conflict on rare-earth metals, a market overwhelmingly dominated by China (at approximately 90%, according to most industry estimates)?

The U.S. is threatening a potential additional $200 billion in tariffs on Chinese imports (on top of the previously announced $50 billion, of which $34 billion has already gone into effect), while China has indicated it is prepared to respond in kind.

But, as The New York Times reported last month, China could strike back in other ways, too, including disruption of supply chains that depend on rare earth metals for an end product (e.g. smartphones).

As the report notes, some rare-earths metals appeared on the Section 301 product list drawn up by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer at President Trump’s direction.

Those metals and related compounds included:

  • scandium and yttrium, whether or not intermixed or interalloyed
  • mixtures of rare-earth oxides or of rare-earth chlorides
  • yttrium materials and compounds containing by wt. >19% but < 85% yttrium oxide equivalent
  • compounds, inorganic or organic, of rare-earth metals, of yttrium or of scandium, or of mixtures of these metals, nesoi
  • cerium compounds

With very little in the way of alternative supplies — that is, supplies of rare earths outside of China — the end result could simply be that U.S. companies will have no choice but to pay more for the metals, as an editorial in the South China Morning Post explains.

China’s dominance in the market and concerns over that fact are nothing new, nor is the situation likely to change anytime soon.

As the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) noted earlier this year, rare earths were not mined in the U.S. at all in 2017. According to USGS, the estimated value of rare-earth compounds and metals imported by the U.S. in 2017 was $150 million, up from $118 million in 2016. According to USGS, the distribution of rare-earths imports by end use was as follows: catalysts, 55%; ceramics and glass, 15%; metallurgical applications and alloys, 10%; polishing, 5%; and other, 15%.

Outside of China

Despite China’s dominance in the rare-earths sector, that hasn’t stopped business interests from probing for new sources around the world.

Within the U.S., Alaska is one such place considered potentially viable for rare-earth mining.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, expressed concerns during a July hearing on the issue of China’s dominance of the market and the impact of potential tariffs.

“My concern, among many concerns, is if China ultimately responds to tariffs by restricting our supply of rare earths, or any number of other minerals, the U.S. could be in serious trouble. We’ve heard testimony in the past about the dangers of the concentration of supply from a handful of countries that control the supply chain,” she said, as quoted by the Anchorage Daily News. “I’m hopeful that we aren’t about to experience those dangers firsthand and will continue to urge action to reduce this significant vulnerability.”

As the report notes, at the current stage, much work remains to be done before assessing the viability of rare-earth mining in the state, including the Bokan Mountain prospect, considered to be the most promising of Alaskan sites, per the report. But availability and viability are two different things; particularly in light of the specter of potential tariffs, it is certainly worth keeping an eye on developments in rare-earth mining efforts in The Last Frontier.

Actual Metal Prices and Trends

It was a down month for many of the metals in the Rare Earths MMI basket.

The price of yttrium fell 2.8% month over month, down to $33.03/kg. Terbium oxide dropped 2.8% to $3,009.10/kg.

Neodymium oxide dropped 4.3% to $46,971.30/mt.

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Europium oxide plunged 21.5% to $46.24/kg, while dysprosium oxide fell 3.4% to $168.80/kg.

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In August, the Copper Monthly Metals Index (MMI) fell by four points. The Copper MMI has continued to slide, mainly driven by weaker LME copper prices in July. The current Copper MMI stands at 77 points.

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The recent slide in copper prices has been driven by concerns over Chinese growth. Analysts commonly call the base metal “Dr. Copper” because of its strong correlation with the Chinese stock markets. Therefore, Dr. Copper serves as a reflection of the Chinese economy.

However, copper prices appear to have begun to stabilize and are currently trading more sideways. Prices appear to be in a buying dip.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of Fastmarkets

However, fundamental supply issues may add support to copper prices.

The world’s largest copper mine, the Chilean Escondida mine, may get shut down due to a strike. The strike comes as a result of failed negotiations between BHP Billiton and the labor union representing the workers at the mine. The labor union gave the company an ultimatum with a deadline to go on strike. The company could improve the contract offer before Aug. 6.

According to a Reuters report, BHP requested government mediation in the talks with the union, temporarily delaying a potential strike.

Last year, the Escondida mine workers went on a 44-day strike that reduced copper output by 200,000 tons.

Supply disruptions remain a concern elsewhere, as well.

Other mines, such as the Chilean Caserones mine, failed to conclude contract negotiations. Codelco’s Chuquicamata copper mine, the state-owned miner’s second-largest in the country, blocked access to the mine in early August.

Chinese Scrap Copper

LME copper prices and Chinese copper scrap prices tend to follow the same trend. Both appear in a long-term uptrend. However, both LME copper and scrap copper prices fell again this month. In July,copper scrap prices fell  less than LME copper prices.

Despite both following the same short-term downtrend, the spread has widened. The wider the spread, the higher the copper scrap consumption — and, therefore, the price.

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

The spread seems to have tightened again.

What This Means for Industrial Buyers

Despite the recent dip, LME copper prices remain in a long-term uptrend.

Buying organizations will want to be prepared to understand how to react to the latest copper price movements. For those who want to understand how to reduce risks, take a free trial now to the MetalMiner Monthly Outlook.

Actual Copper Prices and Trends

In August, most of the prices comprising the Copper MMI basket decreased.

LME copper fell by 6% this month. Indian copper prices decreased by 5%, while Chinese primary copper prices also fell by 5%.

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Prices of U.S. copper producer grades 110 and 122 decreased by 3.76%. Meanwhile, the price of U.S. copper producer grade 102 fell by 3.58%, down to $3.77/pound.

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Many had hoped the announcement last month of 10% tariffs on China would be the signal for serious negotiations between the two trading partners, that China may come to the table and be willing to discuss some of the U.S.’s genuine concerns about theft of intellectual property and reciprocal access rights to each other’s markets.

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While much was made about the trade imbalance, most realized there was no quick fix to the U.S. addiction to low-cost Chinese imports or the Chinese state-sponsored export model – both would take years to correct.

But a road map as to how that may be achieved would in itself be a major win from the confrontation. Indeed, a resetting of those issues to a more equitable position would be a legacy that would seal President Donald Trump’s place in history, without any advance on the myriad other battles he has started with friends and foes alike.

Alas, no such progress is being made.

According to a recent Financial Times article, if anything the opposite seems to be the case.

Negotiations have stalled at a low level, the report states, with discussions now limited to, at best, “conversations about whether we are going to be able to have a fruitful negotiation or not,” according to one senior administration official quoted by the news source.

China really had little alternative if it wanted to maintain face than to announce reciprocal tariffs to those originally applied by the U.S., but in so doing the tables were balanced in the view of U.S. negotiators. The president announced his intention to extend tariffs on $200 billion in annual imports from China, plus a possible increase from 10% to 25% on that $200 billion to give U.S. negotiators room to maneuver.

Unfortunately, the decision now seems to have stalled what little progress was being made. On Friday, China announced plans to impose tariffs on $60 billion of U.S. goods, according to a statement on the Ministry of Commerce website.

Beijing seems in no hurry to capitulate, despite the Shanghai stock market down 3.6% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index down 2.6% to the lowest level in 10 months. Opposition at home is muted to non-existent. Chinese media and much of the industry see themselves as the victims of an unprovoked attack and, as such, support Beijing in what is seen as resistance to an external threat.

In the U.S., however, opinions are more diverse.

Some among the president’s traditional hardcore supporters are still staunchly behind him, but criticism has been growing from other quarters, not least farmers who see themselves in the firing line as China switches buying from the U.S. to South America.

The president’s case may garner more national support if the case were articulated more comprehensively.

There is only so much national consensus that can be achieved via Twitter. The case for nurturing domestic industry has huge merit and, in reality, the cost to U.S. consumers could be relatively low. However, rather than debate and persuade, the barrage of tweets — mixed in with tweets about building a border wall and FBI investigations into Russian attempts to influence voting — creates a chaotic message board. As a result, trade – the most important issue of the day – is subsumed in a barrage of messages and policy priorities.

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To give the “Art of the Deal” space to work on the international stage, the president needs, whether he realizes it or not, the ongoing support of voters, impacted communities (farmers, for example) and the manufacturing sector he purports to represent. As negotiations stall and the process drags on, this imperative will only intensify.

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Mining for gold is an expertise of which not too many Indian miners can boast. In fact, it makes up a minuscule portion of overall annual mining activities in the country.

With neighboring China on the prowl for gold mining projects internationally, some recent news has brought some cheer to the gold sector in India.

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For the first time, a state-owned miner will take up gold mining in India. Earlier this month, India’s National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) won the rights to it at an e-auction. In the process, it beat several biggies, such as Vedanta and Adani. NMDC will dig up a gold mine located in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

NMDC is not a newcomer to gold mining. It is developing a gold mine in Tanzania, while its Australian subsidiary, Legacy Iron Ore, is currently in the process of testing as many as 17 gold tenements in the Western Australian region.

The Chigargunta-Bisanatham mine will be an underground operation. First-phase production is expected to begin two years after the permitting process.

According to a report by the Press Trust of India (PTI), the initial investment is estimated to be about U.S. $4.5 billion. The Indian government stands to earn 38.25% revenue on sale value. It has estimated reserves of 1.83 million tons containing 5.15 grams of gold per ton.

Incidentally, India is on the way to formulating a new gold policy, which will promote domestic gold mining.

Industry experts believe that at least 100 tons of gold can be mined annually in India, from the present level of about 1.5 tons (as compared to China’s 450 tons a year). Geologists believe that India sits on vast deposits of gold, as the terrain from Australia to China is very similar, so they see no reason why India cannot step up its gold mining.

Experts want the Indian government to factor in the complete journey of gold, from mines to market, under the new policy.

Very slowly, after a court-imposed e-auction for mining, gold mining has picked up.

One of the first in this business was Vedanta. In February 2016, Vedanta Resources became the first private company to successfully bid for a gold mine in India, in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh. The mine has gold reserves of 2.7 tons.

Other Indian private miners, in collaboration with international players, have started to move in. More and more are expected to follow in the footsteps of Vedanta and NMDC.

Gold mining will also save the country foreign exchange, since it imports most of its gold at the moment.

A previous government report identified the unrefined gold resource base in the country at 658 tons of metallic gold. The report also stated that this tonnage is spread over 13 different states.

India needs to get its act together on the gold mining front, especially since China is already well on its way. Since 2013, when gold prices plunged 30% in a year, China has been ramping up overseas gold-mining investments.

There is no doubt that developing gold mines is a long-term, risky process requiring years of planning, research and infrastructure development. Miners also need to conduct analyses on how much gold a ton of ore actually contains.

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But for Indian companies interested in this, several bottlenecks, including environment permissions, remain.

If a miner has to apply for a gold mining license, it has to take over 100 permissions before getting a permit — a process that takes over seven years.

Hopefully, experts say, this will be history once the new policy is adopted.

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Multinational miner Glencore plc released its half-year production figures Wednesday, showing a ramp-up in copper and cobalt production.

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Glencore posted own source production of 696,200 tons of copper in H1, up 8% from H1 2017. Copper production from Glencore’s African operations (Katanga, Mutanda and Mopani) hit 194.6 kt in H1, up 75% from H1 2017.

Meanwhile, cobalt production hit 16,700 tons, up 31% from H1 2017. Of that total, 14.8 kt came from its African operations, marking a 32% increase from H1 2017.

Nickel production hit 62,200 tons, up 21% from the same period last year, a result of “Koniambo’s second processing line entering production and the scheduled statutory shutdown at Murrin in the base period,” according to Glencore’s production report.

In its full-year guidance, Glencore projects:

  • 1,465 kt of copper production
  • 39 kt of cobalt
  • 1,090 kt of zinc
  • 285 kt of lead
  • 132 kt of nickel
  • 1,600 kt of ferrochrome
  • 132 mt of coal

Glencore downgraded its coal and lead guidance. The lead full-year guidance of 285 kt marks a 15 kt decrease, or 5%, from previous guidance, due to “mine planning changes in South America.”

Coal, meanwhile, is down 2 mt (1%), due to “modest adjustments attributable to South Africa and Colombia.”

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Glencore is scheduled to release its half-year financial numbers (for the six-month period ending June 30) on Aug. 8.

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World crude steel production in June jumped 5.8% compared with June 2017, according to a recent World Steel Association report.

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Production among the 64 countries reporting to the association amounted to 151.4 million tons (MT) in June. For the first six months of the year, global production (881.5 MT) was up 4.6% compared with the same period in 2017.

By country, production was up across the board.

China’s crude steel production in June 2018 jumped 7.5%, up to 80.2 MT. Meanwhile, Japan produced 8.8 MT of crude steel in June 2018, marking a 4.2% spike. India saw a 7.4% increase to 8.7 MT of crude steel in June 2018, an increase of 7.4%. South Korea’s crude steel production jumped 3.2% to 6.1 MT.

In the E.U., Italy produced 2.1 Mt of crude steel, up by 1.5%. France, however, saw a decline, producing 1.3 MT of crude steel, marking a decline of 4.4% compared with May production.

The U.S. produced 6.8 MT, up 0.8% compared to June 2017.

Meanwhile, through the first six months of the year, production in Asia was up 5.2% compared with the same period in 2017. The E.U. was up 1.6%, while North America posted a 2.4% jump. In addition, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) saw a 2.8% increase.

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Global capacity utilization has continued its steady climb from 69.4% in December 2017 to 78.5% as of June 2018.

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According to a recent PwC report, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity in the metals sector slowed in Q2 2018, in tandem with an escalation in global trade tensions.

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“Deal activity, particularly crossborder, may remain stagnant until the angst caused by the global trade climate has subsided.” said Brian Kelly, US Metals Deals Leader for PwC.

The value of M&A activity in Q2 ($8.1 billion) fell 51% compared to Q1. Total deal volume (117) in Q2 also dropped, falling 40% compared to the previous quarter. In addition, average deal size ($136 million) was down 30%.

However, in the year to date (i.e. January-June), total deal value was up 72% compared with the same period in 2017. Total deal volume was up slightly (1%), while average deal size was up 4%.

The Asia and Oceania region saw the majority of metals sector M&A activity, according to the report. Among that activity included Baotou Iron & Steel Group, China’s largest steelmaker, announcing the acquisition of Inner Mongolia’s Baotou Steel Union for $1.6 billion.

Source: PwC via Thomson Reuters and other publicly available sources
(1 In Million USD)

“The region accounted for 76% of target value and 84% of acquirer value in the sector this quarter,” the report states of Asia and Oceania. “Similar to the previous quarter, China remains the global leader in steel and aluminum manufacturing. While it is expected that the imposed tariffs on foreign imports will increase local valuations, certain risks remain as economic growth expectations stagnate due to increased trade risks.”

In particular, deals in the steel and aluminum categories suffered. This spring the U.S. imposed tariffs of 25% and 10% on steel and aluminum, respectively, with a select few countries managing to negotiate quotas (South Korea, Argentina and Brazil).

“Deal values in the Steel and Aluminum categories are 38% and 90% lower than last quarter, respectively,” the report stated. “Deal values in the Iron Ore and Other Metals categories were higher from last quarter helping offset this decline. Deal volumes were significantly lower in all categories.”

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For now, a recovery in deal activity waits, in part, on some sort of resolution to the rise in global trade tensions.

“Until the results of these geopolitical trade relations become more clear, cross-border deal activity and overall deal value in the Metals sector may continue at below recent historical average levels; despite steadily increasing global demand and other economic stimulus,” the report explains.

Source: wto.org

Ultimately, it went along expected lines.

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India and a handful of other nations held trade dispute settlement consultations with the United States over its steel and aluminum tariffs in Geneva, but got absolutely no concession from the latter, according to reports coming out of the meetings.

India, Canada and Mexico confabulated with the U.S. on the issue of the latter imposing additional duties of 25% & 10% on steel and aluminum imports.

Earlier this month, China, Norway and the European Union also held similar talks with the U.S., under the aegis of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva. Almost all such disputes are held under Article 4 dispute settlement consultations. MetalMiner previously reported about the Geneva meeting and its attempt to try and break the trade tariff imbroglio.

The U.S., as many had expected, stuck to its guns that no law required it to provide any reason for the Section 232 measures on steel and aluminum, since they remain “sovereign determinations” that fall under Article 21 of the GATT 1994, according to media reports.

Apparently, in an earlier meeting, the U.S. told the representative of another country in such a meeting that Section 232 revolved around issues of national security, and was thus not available for review or capable of resolution by WTO dispute settlement.

Representatives of India and other nations raised several questions around the proposed tariffs. They claimed the additional duties constituted a “disguised safeguard” measure, as the U.S. Department of Defense had said that there was no threat to the country’s national security from steel and aluminum imports.

The U.S. delegation, on the other hand, maintained it was unable to share the reasons for the decisions under the Section 232 provisions. Delegates also wondered how countries such as Australia, Brazil, Korea and Argentina had been exempted from similar additional duties, and why these imports did not pose a national security threat to the U.S.

Clearly, unable to get much from the U.S. at this meeting, the only recourse the six nations may have is to approach the WTO with a request to establish a disputes settlement panel to rule against the U.S. measures.

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In March this year, the U.S. had also launched a challenge at the WTO against India’s export subsidies, arguing the programs give Indian companies an unfair advantage. The U.S. claimed these export subsidy programs harmed American workers by creating an uneven playing field on which they must compete.

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