Nine nations face doubling of US 232 duty, AIIS says

Nine nations could face a sudden increase in Section 232 tariffs imposed by the United States if President Donald Trump's administration treats Turkey - whose duties were doubled - as a precedent, a US steel trade association warned.

At risk are the following countries, whose 2017 steel mill product shipments to the US are listed in tonnes:

  • China: 740,126
  • Costa Rica: 41,011
  • Egypt: 173,312
  • India: 743,020
  • Malaysia: 96,225
  • Russia: 2,866,695
  • South Africa: 330,742
  • Thailand: 410,275
  • Vietnam: 679,092

Those nations might be in jeopardy because Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross singled out 12 countries for potential Section 232 tariffs of at least 53% in February.

This “dirty dozen” list – as some industry sources call it – included Turkey, South Korea and Brazil. South Korea and Brazil have agreed to Section 232 quotas in exchange for an exemption from the duties. And Turkey saw its Section 232 tariff double to 50% on Monday August 13 from 25%.

“The remaining nine countries, therefore, seem to be possible future targets for duty increases,” Steven W. Baker, chair of the American Institute for International Steel’s (AIIS’) customs committee, wrote in a newsletter dated August 17.

A presidential proclamation from Trump noted that the increased duties versus Turkish steel were necessary to offset the impact of a steep decline in the value of the Turkish lira. 

“How this may be applied to other countries with currencies declining against the dollar is unclear,” Baker wrote.

But it is clear that the Section 232, invoked for reasons of national security, is being used for other purposes. Political tensions between the US and Turkey might also have been a factor in the doubling of duties on Turkish steel, he noted.

The move has rattled the US steel trade landscape. Turkey was the top supplier of foreign reinforcing bar to the US market last year, at 694,084 tonnes, according to US Census Bureau data. The nation was also an important supplier of flat-rolled steel to the US.

A sudden increase of duties against steel from the other nine nations might have an even more disruptive impact, Census data indicate.

The US imported nearly 34.5 million tonnes of steel in 2017. The nine countries vulnerable to increased duties accounted for 6.1 million tonnes or that total, or 17.6%.

That amount exceeds the nearly 5.7 million tonnes imported from Canada – the top supplier of foreign steel to the US – last year.

Trump announced blanket Section 232 tariffs of 25% on March 1 instead of the more targeted action recommended by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in February.

Steel traders and consumers of imported steel have since been concerned that tariffs on steel from some of the countries called out by Ross could be increased significantly.

Those fears were realized when Trump unexpectedly said in an early-morning tweet on August 10 that he was raising tariffs against Turkey. Trump’s tweet was followed by an official presidential proclamation that evening.

Industry sources across the steel supply chain – including steel traders and some domestic mills sources – have expressed concern that US trade policy has become too unpredictable and subject to Trump’s whims.

“It just throws things into chaos. I’ve never seen anything like it,” one US mill source said. “We don’t know how to react. The service centers don’t know how to react.”

The problem is that if one presidential tweet can double Section 232 tariffs against one nation, another could just as easily remove the tariffs against another nation and with equal speed, he warned.