Trump weighs metal import tariff choices

A worker loads steel bars onto a truck at a warehouse in Tangshan in Hebei province of China. (Reuters Photo)

WASHINGTON: The US Commerce Department has recommended that President Donald Trump impose steep curbs on steel and aluminium imports from China and other countries including Thailand.

The penalties would range from global and country-specific tariffs to broad import quotas, according to proposals released on Friday in Washingon.

China‘s Commerce Ministry responded by saying the report was “baseless” and did not accord with the facts, and that Beijing would take necessary steps to protect its interests if the final decision affected China.

The long-awaited release by the Commerce Department of the national security reviews of the two industries contained global tariff options of at least 24% on all steel products from all countries, and at least 7.7% on all aluminium products from all countries.

Trump authorised the probes under a 1962 trade law that has not been invoked since 2001. He has until April 11 to announce his decision on steel import curbs and by April 20 to decide on aluminium restrictions.

“The president has the discretion to modify any of these or to come with something totally different,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

He said a global tariff would cover every steel and aluminium product entering the American market from China.

China‘s Commerce Ministry urged the United States to exercise restraint in using trade protection tools, respect the rules of multilateral trade and make a positive contribution to the international economic and trading order.

The US aluminium producer Alcoa said any trade action by Washington should focus on Chinese overcapacity and not penalise countries that abide by the rules.

Ross said he would not be surprised if countries challenged the measures at the World Trade Organization.

As an alternative to global tariffs, the Commerce Department recommended a tariff of at least 53% on all steel imports from 12 countries — Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Egypt, India, Malaysia, Russia, South Korea, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam.

Other countries would be subject to quotas limiting their tariff-free access equal to their 2017 steel exports to the United States.

The country-specific aluminium option would impose a 23.6% tariff on all products from China, Hong Kong, Russia, Venezuela and Vietnam. All others would be subject to quotas equal to their 2017 exports to the United States.

A third option called for Trump to impose global quotas based on 63% of each country‘s 2017 steel exports and based on 87% of their aluminium exports to the United States.

Ross said the remedies were designed to raise US capacity utilisation to about 80% for each industry, from the current 48% in aluminium and 73% in steel.

Philip Bell, president of the Steel Manufacturers Association, welcomed the proposals saying they could be “meaningful and effective” in tackling global excess capacity and relentless steel imports.

But in a joint statement the National Tooling and Machining Association and Precision Metalforming Association said steep tariffs would “devastate” downstream US steel-consuming manufacturers, which employ 6.5 million Americans.

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