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Timing of Trump decision on steel imports still imprecise

After a wide-ranging conference call Friday regarding the Section 232 steel import investigation, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross would not venture to guess when US President Donald Trump might decide what action to take on the three Commerce-recommended tariff and quota options stemming from the investigation.

Trump’s decision is due April 11, but Ross declined to speculate about whether the president would wait until the absolute deadline or make a decision in fairly short order now that Commerce has revealed its trade restraint recommendations.

“He’ll make his decision when he makes his decision,” Ross told S&P Global Platts during a media question-and-answer session following the public release of the recommendations. “There is quite a lot going on in Washington right now,” he added. He was not more specific.

After a nine-month investigation under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 — regarding imports’ impact on national security — Ross recommended three possibilities: A global tariff of at least 24% on all steel imports from all countries; a tariff of at least 53% on all steel imports from 12 key steel-exporting countries (see other story) and a quota by product on steel imports from all other countries equal to 100% of their 2017 exports to the US, and thirdly, a quota on all steel products from all countries equal to 63% of a country’s 2017 exports to the US.

In response to the substantial revelation, share prices of major US steel producers and distributors surged Friday and steel market players discussed the possibility of even stronger domestic steel prices on the horizon.

Ross also said during the Q&A session that America’s trading partners might complain about the restraints, if enacted, at the World Trade Organization. However, he noted that WTO mandates can be waived in cases of national security.

When asked about concerns over what effects the restraints could have on domestic steel users, he downplayed the impact, specifically citing automakers, saying steel’s percentage of their total production cost is “quite small.” He said the steel import investigation went through an intra-agency process but that it was not necessary for all government agencies to be in agreement with the Commerce recommendations.
Source: Platts

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