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US can't lose benefit of steel tariffs on Canada, Mexico imports: mill groups

Pittsburgh — With the Trump administration's decision Friday to suspend the Section 232 tariffs on imports of steel from Canada and Mexico, groups representing the US steel industry said the US and its North American trading partners must be vigilant in stopping elevated levels of imports from coming into the continent.

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"The administration's comprehensive 232 actions are working," Philip Bell, president of the Steel Manufacturers Association said in a statement. "It is important that this resolution maintains strong enforcement measures, as to not undermine the advances made by domestic steel producers during this short period of relief."

Effective May 19, the US Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum from Canada and Mexico and the retaliatory tariffs imposed by those countries on US goods were removed without the establishment of quotas.

In addition to the Section 232 tariffs -- which took effect for most countries in March 2018 and took effect for Canada and Mexico in June 2018 -- tax reform and regulatory certainty have provided US steelmakers with a level of confidence to invest in their operations, Bell said.

"It is critical that we lock in these benefits to the domestic industry by maintaining a rigorous 232 program for steel," Bell said.

As part of the agreement reached with Canada and Mexico, it provides for "aggressive monitoring and a mechanism to prevent surges in imports of steel and aluminum," the United States Trade Representative's office said Friday, however details on how this monitoring will take place were not provided. The USTR's office and the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"The new agreements with Canada and Mexico will enable us to cooperate further, and take actions as needed to address transshipment, import surges and other related issues in the future," Thomas Gibson, CEO of the American Iron and Steel Institute said in a statement. "Given the continued problem of global excess steel capacity - estimated at nearly 500 million tons -- we must remain strong in our resolve to ensure our trade laws are aggressively enforced."

The United Steelworkers union, which represents workers in both the US and Canada, said the agreement reached Friday between the three countries will restore confidence and stability in the North American steel and aluminum markets.

"From day one, we made it clear that the real problem isn't Canada or Mexico, but those countries that are undermining the trading system through predatory trade practices and non-market policies that have created massive overcapacity and trade imbalance," USW International President Leo Gerard said in a statement. "We must now focus on ensuring that the production, employment and investments that the 232 actions stimulated continue and that our core national security interests are advanced."

Metals end-users also welcomed the news Friday that the Section 232 tariffs on Canada and Mexico would be eliminated, however the The Coalition of American Metal Manufacturers and Users (CAMMU), which was set up in the wake of the Section 232 metals tariffs to oppose the trade measure, said it would like to see the administration go further in removing tariffs on steel and aluminum.

"We urge the Trump Administration to terminate the remaining Section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs on our other trading partners as quickly as possible," CAMMU representative Paul Nathanson said in a statement. "These tariffs are damaging the US manufacturing sector, and particularly downstream US steel and aluminum consuming companies, by increasing prices and lead times for both domestic and imports of steel and aluminum and making the US an island of high steel prices."

-- Justine Coyne, justine.coyne@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Tom Balcerek, newsdesk@spglobal.com