The headline story is that the U.S. Commerce Department will present its report to President Trump next week. Originally it was scheduled for this week. We are not certain at this point whether the report will be made publically available or whether it will be for the Trump administration and officials only. However, if past history is anything to go by there is a very high chance of it being leaked.
Once we have sight of the report, or at least understand the conclusions of it, UK Steel will, as part of an ongoing campaign to combat unwarranted US protectionism, seek to get a more comprehensive understanding of the following:
What the impact on the UK market would be if the US blocks all global imports of steel, currently 26 million tonnes. Where will this now go and will it increase competition within the EU/UK?
What will the impact on third markets, i.e. are UK companies exporting to other markets that will face increased imports/competition as a result of US restrictive action?
Collate information on companies’ contingency plans and the possibility of alternative markets
As part of this crucial work for the sector, I met with BEIS and DIT with the aim of understanding what action the UK government is taking and also its position and how aligned this is with the European Commission’s. It is crucial that both government and industry work closely at this delicate time and ensure that positions are aligned as reasonably possible. For example if the US were to introduce wide sweeping measures on all steel products, what would the UK’s reaction be? Is the UK going to be supportive of action the EU may take in the case of tariffs and quotes being informed i.e. protective and retaliation measures.
Whilst we understand from Officials that a significant amount of lobbying had been ongoing with US counterparts although they weren’t able to provide anything more specific. However, the fact is that this issue and any action taken is ultimately for the EU Commission, rather than individual Member States.
US Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross said last week that the study could recommend three kinds of actions:
Imposing tariffs “above and beyond” the current anti-dumping and countervailing duties already in place
Imposing quotas limiting the volumes of imports
Imposing a hybrid “tariff-rate quota” option that would set quotas on specific products with new tariffs for imports above those levels “based on actual experience in recent years.”
So a change to trade with the US is inevitable and likely to be increasingly difficult. It is the President that then decides whether he agrees with the Commerce Secretary’s decision. President Trump is making it clear that he wants to take "major action". There could be many reasons why he takes this stance other than the findings of the Ross report: given that U.S. imports of Russian steel peaked in 2014 at nearly 4.3 million MT, perhaps Trump views protection of the US steel industry as a strong signal to the Justice Department who now have him under investigation as part of the Russia Inquiry.
Who knows? But UK Steel will continue to work with members and our partners in Europe in the coming weeks to get a comprehensive understand of the direct and indirect impact of possible measures.