On Monday May 4, 2020, the Department of Commerce issued a news release announcing the start of a Section 232 investigation on imports of “Laminations and Wound Cores for Incorporation Into Transformers, Electrical Transformers, and Transformer Regulators.” This investigation is effectively an examination of whether or not to expand the current Section 232 tariffs on steel to include these products.
The announcement indicates that imports of the steel incorporated into the specifically identified transformers “are being imported into the United States in such quantities or under such circumstances as to threaten to impair the national security.” According to Commerce, it had received “inquiries and requests from multiple members of Congress as well as industry stakeholders,” to start this investigation. Similar to other 232 investigations, the Bureau of Industry and Security will conduct the investigation and request comments in a Federal Register notice that will likely be published soon.
Quoting Commerce’s press release – “transformers are part of the U.S. energy infrastructure,” and “laminations and cores made of grain-oriented electrical steel are critical transformer components. Electrical steel is necessary for power distribution transformers for all types of energy—including solar, nuclear, wind, coal, and natural gas—across the country. An assured domestic supply of these products enables the United States to respond to large power disruptions affecting civilian populations, critical infrastructure, and U.S. defense industrial production capabilities.” It is also important to note that grain-oriented electrical steel (“GOES”) was subject to antidumping duties and countervailing duty orders for several years but there are no current antidumping and countervailing duty orders on GOES.
Based upon the proposed schedule, the secretary of Commerce will notify the secretary of Defense of the investigation, as required by statute. In addition, it stated that the “Department of Commerce will conduct a thorough, fair, and transparent review to determine the effects on the national security from imports of laminations for stacked cores for incorporation into transformers, stacked and wound cores for incorporation into transformers, electrical transformers, and transformer regulators.”
In January 2020, Commerce expanded the scope of the Section 232 tariffs on Steel and Aluminum to include certain other derivative products on products such as nails and thumbtacks without conducting an investigation such as the one now seemingly being proposed. The trade remedies team at Husch Blackwell LLP represents clients now challenging that expansion in the U.S. Court of International Trade. In initiating this new investigation, it appears that Commerce has recognized that it may be on shaky ground for its earlier expansion of section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum and may be willing to provide a fuller procedure for comments and input from interested parties.
Regardless of the procedures, however, if affected U.S. companies cannot locate the steel they need domestically, and the tariffs make importation of steel to manufacture downstream products, then the only option is to source from other countries. Thus, we expect that numerous companies will file comments on this new round of expansion of national security tariffs.
Nithya Nagarajan is a Washington-based partner with the law firm Husch Blackwell LLP. She practices in the International Trade & Supply Chain group of the firm’s Technology, Manufacturing & Transportation industry team.