Some US importers’ slab exclusion requests denied

Some United States slab importers' requests for exclusions from Section 232 tariffs have been denied, the Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) said in decisions posted on Tuesday February 26.

Companies impacted by the decisions include Evraz North America, California Steel Industries (CSI) and NLMK USA, according to the BIS.

Specific breakdowns of denials by volume and by company were not immediately available.

But one analyst estimated that up to 4 million tons of imported slab were denied exclusions from the 25% tariffs, representing roughly 10-15% of the total requested exclusions for semi-finished slabs.

West Coast flat-rolled mill CSI, in particular, was denied exclusions on roughly 100,000 tons of slabs from Japan, while Evraz’s denials could amount to 400,000 tons of slab from Russia, KeyBanc Capital Markets analyst Philip Gibbs wrote in a February 26 research note.

The total state of slab exclusion requests is not known since companies filed multiple exclusion requests for different volumes and technical dimensions of slab from various countries. Each exclusion request is decided on its own merits and companies can have different requests approved or denied.

In one sample denial for an exclusion request by CSI, the BIS ruled that such slabs are made in the US in a “sufficient and reasonably available amount and of a satisfactory quality,” it said. “No overriding national security concerns require that this exclusion request be granted.”

CSI criticized the denial of the request.

“We strongly disagree with the denial of any of our Section 232 exclusion requests for imported slabs… It makes no sense for the [International Trade Administration] or the BIS to conclude there are plenty of domestic slabs available commercially when all prior studies, and current market conditions, have shown the opposite is true,” CSI president and chief executive officer Marcelo Botelho-Rodrigues  said via email on February 26. 

“At the end of the day, these exclusion decisions are examples of the government interfering with the market, creating winners and losers within the steel industry based on different production models,” he added. “For decades we have made efforts to buy slabs domestically but have only been able to secure a small percentage… We will be studying our options for next steps, but have no further comment at this time.” 

Representatives for the other affected companies did not comment.

Slab importers and rollers of flat-rolled steel have protested that US domestic slab must be supplied by their competitors, including raw steel producers like U.S. Steel Corp and others. They have also argued that there is insufficient domestic slab output to collectively service their needs.

Still, BIS noted in its decision that the denial is “without prejudice” and that companies can file a new exclusion request. “New or different facts or circumstances… which meet the criteria for approving an exclusion request” could be relevant to any second wave of requests, it said.

Re-rollers, including NLMK USA and JSW Steel USA filed exclusion requests to the Section 232 tariffs between March and May 2018, in some cases merely weeks after the tariffs were imposed. 

Prices for hot-rolled coil, one steel product made from domestic and imported slab, have generally trended lower this year. Fastmarkets AMM’s daily US domestic hot-rolled coil index stood at $35.05 per hundredweight ($701 per ton) on February 25, down 3.2% from $36.21 per cwt at the start of the year and off 23.5% from the nearly 10-year peak of $45.84 per cwt in early July of last year.    

The price for Brazilian slab, one key source of tariff-free slab in the US, was at $490-530 per tonne fob export on Friday February 22, up by $20-30 per tonne from the previous week.