Why are US steel imports spiking this year?

By: | Issue #661 | at 02:56 PM | Channel(s): Maritime  Breakbulk  

Why are US steel imports spiking this year?

Administration’s investigation into steel imports and threat of trade restrictions triggers rise in imports.

The latest statistics, as made available by the American Iron and Steel Institute (AIIS), show that through the first nine months of 2017, total and finished steel imports into the United States are up 19.6% and 15.7%, respectively, as compared to the same period in 2016. On an annualized basis, 2017 steel imports would total 39.6 million tons and 30.5 million tons for finished products, up 19.8% and 15.9%, respectively against 2016.

Why the spike in steel imports? Ironically, it was a reaction to an initiative undertaken by President Donald Trump that was supposed to protect the domestic steel industry.

In early April, the US Department of Commerce undertook an investigation of steel imports under Section 232 of the Trade Act, focusing on whether they represent a threat to national security. Later that month, President Donald Trump ordered the department to complete its report on an expedited timetable. By Trump’s standard, the department’s findings are now five months overdue. Commerce’s report will make recommendations, but the ultimate decision to impose trade measures under Section 232 is the President’s.

Later, Trump backpedaled on the hurry-up timetable, telling the Wall Street Journal that “we don’t want to do it at this moment” and that he was “waiting till we get everything finished up between healthcare and taxes and maybe even infrastructure” before he makes a decision on steel trade policy. That will no doubt bring us to January 15, which is the statutory deadline for the Commerce Department to submit its Section 232 report, unless the investigation is scrapped before then. Press reports over the summer indicated that the department already had a draft of the report ready, although nothing of its contents was made public.

It’s apparent that the increased level of steel imports is connected with the desire of importers to make sure they had their supplies on hand before the Commerce Department and the president lowered the boom, if in fact that was to be their decision.

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Peter Buxbaum's avatar

American Journal of Transportation

More on Peter Buxbaum

Peter Buxbaum has been writing about international trade and transportation, as well as security, defense, technology, and foreign policy, for over 20 years. Besides contributing to the AJOT, Buxbaum's work has appeared in such leading publications as Fortune, Forbes, Chief Executive, Computerworld, and Jane's Defence Weekly. He was educated at Columbia University.