Trade Cases

Section 232 Briefing Discusses Voluntary Agreements

Written by Sandy Williams

At a Section 232 briefing to the Ways & Means Committee on Thursday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross acknowledged the complexity of initiating broad trade action against imports of steel and aluminum.

A “voluntary” agreement to address steel overcapacity was suggested that would allow countries to negotiate a solution to overcapacity and the resulting import surges.

“He said that the current forms that we have, the WTO and the global steel forums, have not been adequate in addressing this issue and that he is hoping for some way to negotiate in a dialogue with these countries,” Rep. Sandy Chu (D-CA) told reporters after the briefing. “I think they’re still proceeding with the 232, but I think they know that negotiation would be a better way, though.”

No timeline was given for the release of the Section 232 reports. Although a swift review and action was anticipated, Commerce has until Jan. 14, 2018, to present results of the steel investigation to the president, and until Jan. 22 to present the aluminum report.

The president told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that the administration is not ready to take action “at this moment” on steel imports. “We’re waiting till we get everything finished up between health care and taxes and maybe even infrastructure,” said Trump.

Ross said he will defer to Trump on when the reports and recommendations will be presented.

Opponents of Section 232 welcomed the delay, saying it is evidence that their concerns have been heard. “Our collective efforts are obviously having an impact as there continues to be a delay in the announcement,” said AIIS President Richard Chriss in a note to members on Wednesday.

Comments by steel executives this week during earnings calls show the industry is prepared to wait for what it believes will be strong and decisive action. In the meantime, steel mills are girding up to offer customers higher value products in order to beat competition from foreign sources.

“We do believe a remedy is coming. There are a lot of other issues rattling around right now that the administration is dealing with, and I think being thoughtful about this is really important, but we do believe that we are going to go broad and go deep,” said U.S. Steel CEO David Burritt during his company’s earnings conference call.

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