Trade Cases

ITC hears final arguments in tin mill products trade case

Written by Laura Miller

The US International Trade Commission (ITC) held a hearing on Thursday, Jan. 4, to consider arguments for and against the imposition of antidumping and countervailing duties (AD/CVDs) on tin mill products from a handful of countries. Both sides made compelling arguments.

Recall that the ITC is tasked with determining if the domestic industry has been injured by the allegedly dumped and/or subsidized products. A final affirmative injury ruling will result in AD and CVDs being placed on the subject imports, while a negative injury finding will result in the termination of the trade case with no duties applied. The ITC is scheduled to make its final vote in this case next month.

Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. and the United Steelworkers (USW) union filed the trade case last January. Their petition alleges the dumping of tin- and chromium-coated sheet steel from Canada, China, Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. They are also seeking CVDs on the same products from China.

The Department of Commerce made its final ruling in its portion of this case on Friday afternoon.

Arguments for

Cliffs’ chair, president, and CEO Lourenco Goncalves was present at the hearing to offer his remarks on why an affirmative injury determination is needed.

“I want to make this point as clearly as possible: The success or failure of this trade case will determine whether the United States will continue to produce tin mill steel,” he stated.

He touted the investments Cliffs has made at its Weirton mill in West Virginia since acquiring it from ArcelorMittal in December 2020: More than $50 million in just three years, including $10 million to rebuild the number 6 line and the installation of a new tension leveler on the number 4 line.

While the outlook for the Weirton mill was hopeful in the first half of 2022, that changed by mid-year when “imports were pouring back into the US market,” he said. The market had become “drastically oversupplied” by late 2022, and the mill was forced to cut production by 30% while it operated at less than 50% of capacity. Cliffs laid off 300 Weirton workers last year citing unfair imports.

Goncalves noted that an existing order on tin mill products from Japan has been in place since 2000 and that the ITC has chosen to keep it in place on three separate occasions “to prevent further material injury to domestic producers.”

In his closing prepared remarks, Goncalves said, ”In Cleveland-Cliffs and the United Steelworkers, you have two entities that recognize the strategic importance of what we have in this country, that was built on the hard work of previous generations. As stewards of these strategically important assets, it is our solemn responsibility to fight back against threats to the continued viability of mills like Weirton. … We ask that the Commission … find that the domestic industry has been materially injured by the surge of dumped and subsidized imports in our market. Please allow us the tools we need to fight back and preserve this industry.”

Mark Glyptis, president of USW Local 2911, and Mike Millsap, director of USW District 7, were also present at the hearing, offering their comments on the importance of an affirmative injury finding for hundreds of union workers, their families, and communities. Workers from USW Local 2911 in Weirton were also in attendance at the hearing in Washington, D.C.

A handful of congressional delegates testified in support of the imposition of duties.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said trade relief is clearly needed after a third of the workforce was laid off last summer at the Weirton mill. He said AD/CVD laws need to be enforced to the fullest and that the US should show its support for the domestic industry.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) commented that the domestic food supply chain is at risk should tin mill product end-users become completely dependent on imports. If the duties are not imposed, and Cleveland-Cliffs is forced to stop producing these kinds of steels, he said, “A link in our domestic supply chain would be lost, maybe forever.”

Sen. Shelley Moore-Capito (R-W.Va.) also noted that steel production has been happening at the Weirton plant for more than a century, but that is now at risk because of these unfairly traded imports. If this case is lost, the Weirton plant will close in a “crushing blow” to the industry, she said.

Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) said there has not been an increase in demand for tin mill products to justify the increase in imports that has taken place. The import surge has contributed to oversupply in the US, forcing both Cliffs and U.S. Steel to lay off workers.

Arguments against

One attorney pointed out that only one of the three domestic tin mill producers is involved in this trade case. U.S. Steel and Ohio Coatings are the other two producers. The domestic industry has been moving away from the tin plate market for years, and the “modest rise of imports is a consequence of decisions freely made by the domestic industry,” she argued.

Rep. David Rouzer (R-N.C.), with soup-making facilities in his district, was the sole legislator testifying against the imposition of AD/CVDs. He said soup companies rely on imports because no domestic producer will make the cans needed at the specifications required. If duties are imposed, can makers and food manufacturers will be forced to pay more for imports and consumers could see up to a 30% increase in prices, he warned.

Carlos Vanderloo of the Embassy of Canada spoke at the hearing on behalf of Canada. He said the Canadian steel industry has been a reliable supplier for tin mill customers in the food industry who are concentrated in the US. Imposition of the duties would result in food manufacturing being less competitive, higher food prices for US customers, and would also contribute to inflationary pressures, he said. He urged the ITC to consider the “real world consequences” of imposing these duties.

Peter Young testified for the European Union, saying they are concerned that World Trade Organization (WTO) rules are not being respected in this case.

Representatives from the can-consuming industry were present to support the arguments against the duties. The Can Manufacturers Institute joined a coalition last month voicing their concerns about how the potential tariffs would hurt US manufacturing and raise consumer prices.

Laura Miller

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The International Trade Commission (ITC) voted earlier this month against imposing antidumping and countervailing duties on imports of tin mill products from four countries. When Cliffs filed trade cases on tin mill products in early 2023, the company claimed that the failure to get massive duties on imports would result in the closure of its mill in Weirton, W.Va. We don’t know the reasoning behind this decision, only that all four sitting Commissioners voted not to impose duties. We do know that Cliffs plans to close Weirton.