AP Analysis: Hundreds of Companies Excused from Steel Tariff

By Lardner, Richard; Fenn, Larry | The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV), February 16, 2019 | Go to article overview

AP Analysis: Hundreds of Companies Excused from Steel Tariff


Lardner, Richard, Fenn, Larry, The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV)


WASHINGTON - Despite President Donald Trump's tough talk on trade, his administration has granted hundreds of companies permission to import millions of tons of steel made in China, Japan and other countries without paying the hefty tariff he put in place to protect U.S. manufacturers and jobs, according to an Associated Press analysis.

The waivers from the import tax show how pliable his protectionist policies can be. Trump has positioned himself as an "America First trade warrior, using tariffs as a club against countries he's accused of playing unfairly. Although China has been the principal target of Trump's ire, he also has criticized Japan and American allies in Europe.

"I love tariffs, but I also love them to negotiate, Trump said Friday during a Rose Garden news conference.

Behind the scenes, however, his Commerce Department approved tariff exemption requests from 370 companies for up to 4.1 million tons of foreign steel, with roughly 8 percent of the total coming from China and close to 30 percent from Japan, according to AP's review of thousands of applications for relief from the import tax on steel. Many recipients of the waivers are subsidiaries of foreign-owned businesses.

Although Trump has sought to rebuild America's steel industry by curbing imports, tariffs are fraught with economic risk - a message that came through loud and clear in many of the waiver applications. Companies that use steel in their products warned the Commerce Department that the 25 percent tariff could do serious damage to their businesses.

The numbers also provide a window into a steel tariff exemption program that has vexed many applicants as well as lawmakers who've questioned the pace, transparency and fairness of the process. The flood of applications overwhelmed the system the department set up nearly a year ago to review them, and more than 38,000 requests still await rulings.

The Commerce Department has received waiver applications from 45 states and Puerto Rico, evidence of the geographic range of companies angling for exemptions.

Tioga Pipe in Philadelphia, which supplies a variety of industrial customers with pipe, fittings and flanges, received approval to import as much as 86,500 tons of Chinese steel duty free; that was the most of any company with approved waivers. Tioga did not return calls and emails seeking comment, but its applications indicate the material isn't available from domestic suppliers in the sizes and shapes it needs.

DS Containers, a subsidiary of Japan's Daiwa Can, makes aerosol and liquid pour cans at factories in Illinois using laminated tin-free steel that U.S. suppliers have shown no interest in manufacturing, CEO Bill Smith told the Commerce Department. Smith received the go-ahead to import up to 390,000 tons of the material from Japan, the Netherlands and United Kingdom. If the waivers had not been granted, Smith warned, DS Containers might have been forced to shut down production lines or lay off employees.

A 25 percent tariff "is a very heavy burden on any company, Smith told AP last year.

The department declined interview requests. A spokesman said in an emailed statement that exemptions can be approved if the department determines the metal "is not produced in the United States in a sufficient and reasonably available amount or of a satisfactory quality or should be excluded based upon specific national security considerations.

Overall, the department has so far approved nearly 14,000 requests for exemption from the steel duty, with 59 percent of the total going to firms with a foreign corporate parent. Most of the waivers last for a year. More than 4,400 applications were denied.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who this month declared herself a Democratic candidate for president in 2020, told Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in late October that giving exemptions to foreign-owned businesses "appears to be massive loophole. …

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