US Section 232 tariffs a factor in NAS’ swift Covid-19 response, company says [CORRECTED]

North American Stainless Inc (NAS) has, in part, credited Section 232 tariffs for its ability to quickly shift production to meet the stainless steel needs of manufacturers and producers of medical infrastructure critical to battling Covid-19.

The Section 232 tariffs, imposed in March 2018 by the United States Commerce Department, have created “a level playing field with [the company’s] competition, including businesses subsidized by China,” Ghent, Kentucky-based NAS said in a release dated Wednesday April 15.

The tariff relief allowed NAS to invest $30 million to upgrade and modernize one of its cold-rolling mills and annealing and pickling lines at Ghent, it said. That investment, in turn, has enabled the company to quickly ramp up production of stainless steel used to make a range of critical medical products, including ventilators, oxygen tanks, hospital beds, lab equipment, medical incubators and cashier shields.

“It is critical that American companies fill health-care manufacturing needs. We cannot let our frontline workers be at the mercy of foreign interference in our supply chains,” NAS chief executive officer Cristobal Fuentes.

NAS, at the same time, blasted China for its concerted efforts to unfairly capture US market share. “For years, China has been working multiple angles to flood the US market with government-subsidized stainless steel, including constructing one of the largest mills in the world in Indonesia for Tsingshan Holdings,” it said.

Tsingshan and Allegheny Technologies Inc (ATI) operate a 50:50 joint venture called A&T Stainless that runs a stainless cold-rolled steel mill in Midland, Pennsylvania. Under the joint venture, Tsingshan has been sending stainless slab from its plant in Indonesia to the US, where it is hot rolled by ATI at its facility in Brackenridge, Pennsylvania, and then shipped to the Midland plant to be cold-rolled.

NAS further accused China and Tsingshan of manipulating the price of nickel by using the Chinese Belt and Road initiative as leverage “to convince Indonesia to ban the export of nickel, [thus] raising the price of this critical raw material on the London Metal Exchange.” 

ATI, a competitor of NAS, last month said it would idle the Midland plant at the end of June after repeatedly failing to obtain relief from the tariffs on its stainless slab imports from  Indonesia.

But NAS, citing a report in CQ Roll Call on April 1, said that Tsingshan was sending a large shipment of “Indonesian-made, Chinese-subsidized” stainless slab to the Midland plant at the end of this month. 

ATI did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the purported shipment.

One industry source said that stainless buyers have told NAS that ATI has assured its customers that it will be receiving a large shipment of Indonesian slab in late April that would enable it to meet all promised deliveries of cold-rolled stainless coil ahead of the plant’s idling.

NAS stated in its release that it is one of the US producers that has shipped US-made stainless steel slab to the Midland plant since late last year.

The company also credited relief contained in a US tax treaty signed with Spain last year for contributing to its ability to make capital investments. NAS parent company Acerinox is based in Madrid, Spain.

The stainless market, like other metals, has been reeling from the economic turmoil caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fastmarkets’ monthly assessment for stainless steel 304 cold-rolled sheet, fob mill US, fell by 2.5% to $117 per hundredweight on April 13 from $120 per cwt previously, while that for 304L cold-rolled stainless sheet also down by 2.5% to $119 per cwt from $122 per cwt in March. The price for 316L cold-rolled stainless sheet dropped by 3.8% to $154 per cwt from $160 per cwt in the same comparison.

Editor’s note: This article was updated on Thursday April 16. Due to a reporting error, the original version incorrectly stated that A&T Stainless – the joint venture between ATI and Tsingshan Group – owned a plant in Indonesia. The plant is owned entirely by Tsingshan. The original story also mistakenly claimed that North American Stainless Inc and other domestic providers sold slab to ATI’s Midland plant before the creation of the A&T Stainless joint venture. The A&T Stainless joint venture reopened the Midland plant, which had previously been closed for many years and since last fall has relied slab from Indonesia and the United States.