An investigation launched by the Commerce Department could lead to President Donald Trump imposing tariffs on all steel imports, regardless of the country of origin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Thursday.
"Conceivably, it could result in a recommendation to take action on all steel imports," Ross told reporters at a White House briefing on the investigation, launched late Wednesday night. He said "it could be broader both geographically and product-wise" than a typical anti-dumping or countervailing duty case, which are aimed at specific products from individual countries.
The United States imported about 30 million metric tons of steel in 2016, down from 35 million in 2015, for use in a variety of sectors, including buildings, bridges, water and sewage plants, and oil and natural gas production. Major foreign suppliers include Canada, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, Japan and Germany.
Ross noted the underlying statute gives the Commerce Department up to 270 days to complete its investigation, but Trump will sign a memorandum today instructing the department to expedite the process. That should be possible because the department already knows a lot about the international steel market because of the more than 150 anti-dumping and countervailing duty orders it has in place, he said.
The department will hold at least one public hearing and will also take public comment in the course of its investigation, which will look at the issue from a number of angles, including whether there is enough domestic steel production to meet defense requirements, Ross said.
The Commerce chief stressed the investigation was not focused on any particular country, but also noted the problems that China’s huge steel overcapacity has created for steel producers around the world.
Ross said it was premature to talk of any Chinese retaliation because no decision on potentially restricting imports has been made.