US launches probe into aluminium imports, citing security concerns

Trumps commerce chief Wilbur Ross invokes cold war law aimed at protecting high-grade smelting for defence industry

The Trump administration has launched an investigation into whether a flood of aluminium imports from China and elsewhere is compromising US national security, a step that could lead to broad import restrictions on the metal.

The commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, said the investigation was similar to one announced last week for steel imports into the US, as he invoked section 232 of a national security law passed in 1962 at the height of the Cold War.

Ross said the review was prompted by the extreme competitive pressures that unfairly traded imports were placing on the US aluminium industry, causing several domestic smelters to close or halt production in recent years.

The move is the latest of several potential US actions aimed at stemming a rising tide of aluminium imports. The commerce department is investigating allegations that Chinese companies are dumping aluminium foil into the US market below cost and benefiting from unfair subsidies.

One of Donald Trumps main campaign promises was to introduce trade barriers in order to protect traditional industries such as steelmaking against cheap imports, especially from China.

Ross said part of the justification for the investigation was that US combat aircraft such as the Lockheed Martin F-35 joint strike fighter and the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet require high-purity aluminium that is now produced only by the Century Aluminum smelter in Hawkesville, Kentucky.

He said that company could probably meet peacetime needs, but not if the US needed to ramp up defence production for a conflict. The same high-purity aluminium goes into armor plating for military vehicles and naval vessels, he said.

At the very same time that our military is needing more and more of the very high-quality aluminium, were producing less and less of everything, and only have the one producer of aerospace- quality aluminium, Ross told a White House briefing.

The investigation will determine if there is sufficient domestic aluminium capacity to meet US defense needs and will also assess the effects of lost jobs, skills and investments on national security, Ross said.

Although he said China was a major contributor to the global excess capacity in aluminium production, he said imports from other countries, including Russia, were also causing problems.

This is not a China-phobic program, this has to do with a global problem, Ross said.

Last November, a dozen US senators urged a national security review of Chinese aluminium Zhongwang Internationals proposed $2.3bn purchase of Cleveland-based aluminium products maker Aleris.

The transaction is still pending, and a spokesman for Aleris could not be immediately reached for comment on the commerce department probe.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/apr/27/us-launches-probe-into-aluminium-imports-citing-security-concerns

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