Commerce Submits Steel Imports Report to Trump
But We Don’t Know What It Says Yet
Yesterday was the day many in the world of trade were waiting for. The United States Department of Commerce announced that it had submitted its report on the Section 232 investigation of steel imports to President Donald Trump.
The news landed with a big thud, because the department did not publicly release any of the content or the conclusions of the report. Instead, Commerce announced, it would publish a summary of the report after Trump took action on it.
The president has 90 days to announce whether he accepts or rejects the report’s recommendations and 15 days after that to take action, if he chooses to do so. It may be months before we know what was in the report, or what the president intends to do about it.
In early April 2017, Commerce undertook an investigation of steel imports under Section 232 of the Trade Act, focusing on whether they represent a threat to national security. Later that month, Trump ordered the department to complete its report on an expedited timetable. By that standard, the department’s findings would have been submitted seven months ago.
The deadline under the statute for submitting the report is January 16, 2018.
Many in the US steel industry were supportive of the Section 232 investigation, a sustainable reduction in steel imports, but delays in releasing the findings may be one reason why steel imports have spiked in recent months. Industry sources say that this higher market share for imports makes action under Section 232 all the more compelling today than it was a few months ago.
But importers tell a different story. Many see potential action under Section 232 to be directed against China, but that country accounts for less than two percent of US steel imports, and that volume has actually decreased in recent months.
Meanwhile, imports from countries have increased and those countries—such as Japan, South Korea, and Germany—would also be impacted by any presidential action. The European Union has said it would retaliate against US action on steel, and higher steel tariffs would have a negative impact on domestic fabricators downstream.
Also, say importers, increasing steel imports is nothing more than a sign of a growing economy.