Section 232 Investigations

President Donald Trump signed yesterday two Presidential Proclamations adjusting imports of aluminum and steel into the United States. In doing so, he stated that measures are now in place to address the impairment to the national security threatened by imports of steel and aluminum from Argentina, Brazil and Australia. South Korea previously reached an agreement with the United States on April 30 to limit its imports of steel. President Trump added, however, that “similar measures are not in place with respect to steel or aluminum imports from Mexico, Canada or the European Union” and that insufficient progress had been made in ongoing negotiations with these countries. He declared that, as of June 1, 2018, the Section 232 tariffs for steel of 25 percent and for aluminum of 10 percent will no longer be suspended for such imports from these countries. The White House indicated that it will continue discussions with them and remains open to discussions with other countries that may lead to permanent country-based exemptions. Continue Reading Trump Administration Implements Section 232 Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum Imports from Canada, Mexico and the European Union

Key Notes:

  • On May 23, 2018, the Department of Commerce self initiated a Section 232 national security investigation concerning the imports of automobiles and automotive parts.
  • A formal docket has been opened for the submission of public comments and requests to appear at a public hearing July 19-20, 2018.
  • The Department of Commerce has 270 days to issue its findings and submit a report to the president.

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Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, at the direction of President Donald Trump, has initiated an investigation to determine whether imports of automobiles, including SUVs, vans and light trucks, and automotive parts into the United States threaten to impair the national security as defined in Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. “There is evidence suggesting that, for decades, imports from abroad have eroded our domestic auto industry,” said Secretary Ross. “The Department of Commerce will conduct a thorough, fair, and transparent investigation into whether such imports are weakening our internal economy and may impair the national security.” President Trump stated that, “Core industries such as automobiles and automotive parts are critical to our strength as a Nation.”

According to Commerce, during the past 20 years, imports of passenger vehicles have grown from 32 percent of cars sold in the United States to 48 percent. From 1990 to 2017, employment in motor vehicle production in the United States declined by 22 percent. The investigation will consider whether the decline of domestic automobile and automotive parts production threatens to weaken the internal economy of the United States by potentially reducing research, development and jobs for skilled workers in connected vehicle systems, autonomous vehicles, fuel cells, electric motors and storage, advanced manufacturing processes, and other cutting-edge technologies.

A formal notice of the investigation setting forth the scope and schedule will be published in the Federal Register in the near future.

With the deadline approaching for full implementation of the Section 232 tariffs on certain steel and aluminum imports, President Trump on April 30, 2018 relented to increasing pressure and extended the tariff exemptions for key U.S. allies until June 1, 2018. In making the announcement, the Trump administration announced that it had previously reached a final agreement with South Korea on steel imports and has also reached agreements in principle with Argentina, Australia and Brazil on both steel and aluminum imports. In addition, the president indicated that he was extending the country-based exemptions for Canada, Mexico and the European Union for a final 30 days. In all these negotiations, the administration has been focused “on quotas that will restrain imports, prevent transshipment, and protect the national security.” Until June 1, 2018, the United States will maintain current tariff levels for Canada, Mexico and the EU.

The president previously noted in Presidential Proclamation 9711 that the tariffs, initially implemented on March 23, 2018 for most U.S. trading partners, would be extended until May 1, 2018 in recognition of the important security relationship between the United States and these countries while the parties sought alternative means to address the threatened impairment to U.S. national security by imports of steel and aluminum articles from those countries. Unless exempted, the tariffs under these Section 232 trade actions are 25 percent on certain imported steel and 10 percent on certain imported aluminum. Separate from the White House June 1 extension announcement, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross stated that these countries will have to agree to reduce the volume of their exports to the United States, indicating that “If people don’t have the tariffs, and they don’t have the quota, that would defeat the whole purpose” of the Section 232 investigations and recommended actions.

It is already known that South Korea has agreed to cap its annual steel exports to the United States at approximately 70 percent of the country’s annual shipments from 2015 to 2017; the aluminum tariff remains in place for South Korea. While yesterday’s announcement indicated that agreements had been reached with Australia, Argentina and Brazil, no details were made available. Negotiations will continue with the remaining countries subject to the extensions (Canada, Mexico and the EU), significant U.S. steel and aluminum trade partners, for the next 30 days.

For additional details on these extensions, see Presidential Proclamation Adjusting Imports of Steel into the United States and Presidential Proclamation Adjusting Imports of Aluminum into the United States.

In its self-initiated investigation, the Department of Commerce has preliminarily determined that countervailing duties (CVD) should be assessed for imports of aluminum sheet from China to counteract Chinese government subsidies. Commerce calculated a 31.20 percent CVD rate for Chinese respondent Yong Jie New Material Co., Ltd.; a 34.99 percent CVD rate for respondents Henan Mingtai Industrial Co., Ltd. and Zhengzhou Mingtai Industry Co., Ltd.; and a 33.10 percent CVD rate for all other Chinese producers and exporters. Due to their failure to cooperate in the investigation, Commerce assigned a 113.30 percent CVD rate to respondents Chalco Ruimin Co., Ltd. and Chalco-SWA Cold Rolling Co., Ltd. Continue Reading Department of Commerce Preliminarily Determines Countervailing Duties for U.S. Imports of Chinese Aluminum Sheet

On April 12, 2018, the House of Representatives’ Committee on Ways and Means held a hearing to explore the effects on the U.S. economy and jobs of the tariff increases related to Section 232 and Section 301 investigations. Before the hearing, Chairman Kevin Brady stated, “In enforcing our trade laws, we should always take a targeted approach to address unfair practices while avoiding harm to U.S. workers and job creators. Our private sector witnesses will discuss the impact of recently announced U.S. tariff increases on their businesses, including product and country coverage of the tariffs, the process to comment on and apply for exclusions from the tariffs, and the effects of possible retaliation on U.S. exporters.” In his opening comments, Brady highlighted China’s questionable trade policies and practices, but also asked, “How do you avoid punishing Americans for China’s misbehavior?” Continue Reading House Committee Holds Hearing on Effects of Tariff Increases on U.S. Economy and Jobs

The Department of Commerce has released information setting forth the process for how parties in the United States may submit requests for product-based exclusions from tariffs implemented by President Trump under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to protect national security from threats resulting from imports of aluminum and steel, as previously detailed in two presidential proclamations. The March 8, 2018 proclamations authorize the secretary of Commerce to grant exclusions from the tariffs upon the request of affected parties if the steel or aluminum articles are determined not to be produced in the United States in a sufficient and reasonably available amount or of a satisfactory quality or based upon specific national security considerations.

In a Federal Register notice to be published on Monday, March 19, 2018, Commerce is issuing an “interim” final rule seeking comments on the manner in which it intends to implement the requirements for submissions requesting product-based exclusions from the tariff remedies. While interim in nature, the notice indicates that sufficient conditions have been met to immediately implement the rule and, in turn, the requirements for seeking a product-based exclusion. Because, the notice states, normal clearance procedures would prevent or hinder the collection of information for national security purposes, and a delay in an effective date while seeking public comment could harm national security, the requirements for requesting product-based exclusions from the Section 232 aluminum and steel tariffs will be effective March 19.

The notice provides specific guidance as to how individuals or companies using steel or aluminum articles in business activities (e.g., construction, manufacturing or supplying steel/aluminum to users) in the United States may submit product-based exclusion requests. The notice is clear that these exclusions will be limited to entities located in the United States, since allowing those not engaged in business activities in the United States to seek such exclusions “could undermine the adjustment of imports that the President determined was necessary to address the threat to national security posed by the current import[s]” of these articles. Further, any approved exclusions will be made on a product basis and will be limited to the individual or organization that submitted the request, unless Commerce approves a broader application of that particular product’s exclusion. The notice also makes clear that the country-based exemptions to be handled through negotiations by the U.S. Trade Representative are separate and apart from the product-specific exclusion process.

Commerce is requiring that submissions requesting exclusion be filed using specific forms – Steel Exclusion Forms and Aluminum Exclusion Forms – that will be posted shortly on Commerce’s website. Forms for objecting to exclusion requests will also be posted at these web pages. Commerce notes that information submitted in exclusion requests and objections to submitted exclusion requests will be subject to public review and made available for public inspection and copying. Parties that have proprietary or business confidential information they believe to be relevant for consideration will need to indicate so on the forms. A party making an exclusion request must specify its business activities in the United States that provides it authorization and sufficient reason to request an exclusion. Exclusion requests (i.e., forms) that are incomplete will be denied. There is no time limit for submitting a product-based exclusion request.

The review process for considering an exclusion request (and any objections) will normally not exceed 90 days. Approved exclusions will be effective five business days after publication of the responses in the appropriate dockets for aluminum (Docket No. BIS-2018-0002) and steel (Docket No. BIS-2018-0006) on www.regulations.gov. Starting on that date, the requesting party will be able to rely upon the approved exclusion request in calculating the duties owed on the product imported in accordance with the terms listed in the approved exclusion request. Exclusions will generally be approved for one year.

The European Union (EU) has published a list of U.S. products it might target in retaliation if President Trump moves forward with tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from the Section 232 investigations. The list is divided into two categories:

  • Part A is a list of U.S. products that face immediate retaliation if the United States implements its steel tariffs. These products could face proportional EU tariffs of up to 25 percent. The EU also plans to file a complaint over the U.S. tariffs with the World Trade Organization (WTO).
  • Part B is a list of U.S. products that would also be included if the WTO rules that the U.S. aluminum and steel tariffs are illegal.

The EU has indicated in a notice seeking comments that the publication of this list is a procedural step in preparing a response to any potential U.S. tariffs. The European Commission, which coordinates trade policy for the 28 EU members, has invited comments from private stakeholders affected by the forthcoming U.S. tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports. The commission is considering, as a first step, suspending tariff concessions under Article 8 of the WTO Agreement on Safeguards and, as a second step, subsequently and at the appropriate level, imposing increased customs duties on certain products from the United States.

The Thompson Hine Trump and Trade team recommends that U.S. companies that export to Europe review this proposed list to determine any potential impact on business activities. For additional background on the Section 232 investigations, the Department of Commerce’s reports and the subsequent presidential proclamations, please see Thompson Hine’s International Trade Update of March 13, 2018.

President Trump has signed two proclamations imposing 25 percent tariffs on imports of steel mill products and 10 percent tariffs on wrought and unwrought aluminum pursuant to his announcement on March 1, 2018. The president stated that these actions were necessary to address global overcapacity and unfair trade practices in the steel and aluminum industries and to protect national security. As past Trump and Trade updates have indicated, these tariffs are being implemented pursuant to Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which provides the president with authority to adjust imports entering the United States in quantities or under circumstances that threaten to impair national security. The tariffs are scheduled to be implemented 15 days from today, on March 23, 2018.

Pursuant to the proclamation on steel, “steel articles” for which tariffs will be levied are defined at the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) six‑digit level as: 7206.10 through 7216.50; 7216.99 through 7301.10; 7302.10; 7302.40 through 7302.90; and 7304.10 through 7306.90, including any subsequent revisions to these HTS classifications.

Pursuant to the proclamation on aluminum, “aluminum articles” are defined in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule as: (a) unwrought aluminum (HTS 7601); (b) aluminum bars, rods and profiles (HTS 7604); (c) aluminum wire (HTS 7605); (d) aluminum plate, sheet, strip and foil (flat rolled products) (HTS 7606 and 7607); (e) aluminum tubes and pipes and tube and pipe fitting (HTS 7608 and 7609); and (f) aluminum castings and forgings (HTS 7616.99.51.60 and 7616.99.51.70), including any subsequent revisions to these HTS classifications.

After insisting last week that the tariffs would cover steel and aluminum imports from all countries, President Trump scaled back that threat in the actual proclamations. Citing the need for “flexibility” and “cooperation” with allies and those who “treat us fairly on both trade and the military,” the president offered some restraint in implementing the tariffs. President Trump recognized that Canada and Mexico present a “special case” and will be excluded for now from the tariffs, indicating that his administration will continue ongoing discussions with those countries to address concerns (i.e., NAFTA negotiations). The president stated that he “welcomes any country with which we have a security relationship to discuss alternative ways to address our concerns, including our concerns about global excess capacity.” His administration will provide appropriate avenues, via negotiations with the U.S. Trade Representative, for potentially modifying or removing a tariff under certain conditions for individual countries.

The White House also announced that there will be a mechanism, via the Department of Commerce, for U.S. parties to apply for exclusion of specific products based on demand that is unmet by domestic production or on specific national security considerations. The proclamations make clear that such relief will be provided only after a request for exclusion is made “by a directly affected party located in the United States.” Exclusion request procedures are scheduled to be issued by March 18, 2018.

In the category of “we can’t make this stuff up,” there reportedly has been in the past 24 hours an all-out war within the Trump administration over any tariffs to be implemented as a result of the Section 232 investigations into steel and aluminum imports. On February 16, the Department of Commerce publicly released reports on the national security impact of U.S. imports of steel mill products and of wrought and unwrought aluminum, finding that these imports threaten to impair the national security and recommending a range of remedy options, including tariffs and quotas. In the weeks since, U.S. industry and members of Congress have weighed in on the potential impact of these prospective tariffs and quotas on the U.S. economy, taxpayers and other industries reliant upon steel and aluminum imports, and the potential negative impact of tariffs and quotas on key U.S. allies.

A press announcement was initially planned for today, March 1, to announce the president’s decision, then it was postponed, then it was ostensibly cancelled. The scheduling problems appeared to be related to reports that National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and White House trade adviser Peter Navarro were seeking vastly different remedies. Cohn reportedly wanted a more targeted approach to applying any tariffs, while Navarro was pushing for global tariffs at rates higher than recommended in Commerce’s reports. Chief of Staff John Kelly, Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster had also sought a more nuanced response. When the White House announced instead that a meeting today with steel and aluminum industry executives would take place, it was expected to be nothing more than a “listening session” for the president.

And, it was … right up until the end of the session. After receiving comments from industry executives and repeatedly mentioning bad trade deals that have destroyed U.S. companies, the president said, “We’re going to take care of the situation, okay? So steel and aluminum will see a lot of good things happen. We’re going to have new jobs popping up. We’re going to have much more vibrant companies.” And then, in response to a question from the White House press pool, the president announced ­– likely to the surprise of his staff and everyone in the room – that he intended to implement tariffs for an unlimited time period of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports, stating that “it’s [the policy is] being written now.”

A transcript of the “listening session” is available here. By the end of the trading day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had fallen almost 2 percent; however, U.S. steel and aluminum companies saw gains. China and the European Union have already announced they will retaliate, either through their own measures or through remedies obtained in the WTO dispute settlement process. Stay tuned!