Trade Cup Overflows: Steel, NAFTA, U.S.-U.K. Talks Top List

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By Rossella Brevetti, Brian Flood, Len Bracken, and Andrew Wallender

Steel industry officials and analysts are getting anxious in waiting for the Trump administration’s “Section 232” report on steel imports to drop and are hoping for some news this week, while on another front U.S. and British officials will discuss what a post-Brexit trade relationship could look like.

The prospect of the U.S. imposing tariffs or quotas on steel imports has prompted yowls of protest from Canada to China, as well as the European Union. In fact, the EU has threatened to take retaliatory action if the U.S. restricts steel imports for national security reasons.

As for the post-Brexit trade talks, U.K. trade chief Liam Fox will be part of the charm offensive, traveling to Washington July 24-25 where he’ll meet with U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer and release a report on U.S.-U.K. trading relationship.

And then there’s the North American Free Trade Agreement. It’s all NAFTA all the time these days, especially since USTR announced that talks to renegotiate the trade deal with Canada and Mexico will start Aug. 16. Agricultural producers worried about the fate of the three-nation agreement can press their case before a sympathetic audience July 26 when the House Agriculture Committee holds a hearing on the pact.

Also on deck is a domestic sourcing plan for new pipeline construction, which the Commerce Department is supposed to deliver by July 23, as well as a July 29 deadline for members of the public to weigh in on a Trump administration review of all the U.S.'s existing international trade and investment agreements.

In addition, Brazil could decide whether to impose new tariffs on imports of U.S. ethanol this week, which the country said it is considering in response to a jump in shipments from the U.S.

NAFTA Beat Goes On

The House Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing July 26 on renegotiating the 1994 agreement.

Witnesses are expected to lay out their industry priorities.

“[A]griculture needs to keep its foot on the gas to ensure their interests are known and reflected in the agreement,” Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) said in announcing the hearing.

NAFTA watchers may get additional clues on what the U.S. will seek in the talks from comments Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will make July 25 in an interview with David Rubenstein, president of the Economic Club of Washington, D.C.

The devil is in the details when it comes to NAFTA negotiating objectives that will guide the talks in the months ahead. Energy has been cited as a potential “win-win-win” in the sweeping talks with Canada and Mexico.

The Trump administration’s negotiating objective for energy calls for preserving and strengthening investment, market access, and state-owned enterprise disciplines benefiting energy production and transmission. Supporting North American energy security and independence while promoting continuing energy market-opening reforms is another stated goal.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies Energy and National Security Program July 26 will take a crack at speculating on what will emerge from this language. David Pumphrey, senior associate with the CSIS Energy & National Security Program and former deputy assistant secretary at the Energy Department, and Scott Miller, senior adviser and Scholl chair in international business at CSIS, will discuss the occasionally competing interests of North American energy players, and the effects a new trade regime could have on the North American and global energy landscapes.

Mr. Fox in Washington

The U.S. and U.K. July 24-25 will hold the inaugural meeting of the Trade and Investment Working Group, which the two countries set up to improve bilateral trade and investment relations. The working group is chaired by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

An administration official told Bloomberg BNA on background in an email that the early discussions will focus on laying the groundwork for commercial continuity for U.S. and U.K. businesses as the U.K. leaves the European Union and “exploring possible ways to strengthen trade and commercial ties, consistent with the EU’s common commercial policy.” The discussions will also provide a mechanism for preparing the ground for a potential trade agreement once the U.K. leaves the EU, according to the official.

The U.K.'s relationship with a number of non-EU countries, including the U.S., is affected by various agreements the 28-nation bloc currently has in place. The U.K. is interested in ensuring continuity of these agreements after its divorce from the EU.

Liam Fox will address the American Enterprise Institute July 24 to discuss steps the country is taking to design its own trade policy. As the U.K.’s secretary of state for international trade, Fox is Britain’s “go-to” official on the issue. He will meet with USTR Robert Lighthizer on July 24.

On July 25, Fox will unveil a report that highlights the trading relationship between the U.K. and the 435 U.S. congressional districts to complement an earlier report on the U.K. trading relationship with all 50 states.

Steel: Waiting for the Big Reveal

The U.S. steel industry, downstream producers, and foreign steel-makers are still awaiting the Trump administration’s report on the national security implications of steel imports.

The release of the report could be timed to coincide with President Trump’s trip to Youngstown, Ohio, to hold a July 25 rally, although an administration official declined to comment on that possibility. The town’s difficulties in the wake of a shrinking steel sector were famously memorialized in the Bruce Springsteen song “Youngstown.”

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had previously said the report would be out by the end of June, but the administration was unable to meet that deadline. If the report concludes that cheap steel imports are so damaging to domestic industry that they represent a national security threat, the president could impose tariffs, quotas, or other protective measures.

More on Steel

The International Trade Commission will hold a public hearing on July 25 as part of its review of whether to renew antidumping and countervailing duties on stainless steel sheet and strip from Japan, Korea, and Taiwan.

Domestic steel producers—including AK Steel Copr., Allegheny Ludlum, North American Stainless, and Outokumpu Stainless USA—are pushing for the U.S. to renew the duties.

The industry is in a “highly-vulnerable condition” and would be in no position to withstand competition from unfairly traded imports if the duties were to be lifted, which would lead to “a downward pricing and profit spiral,” these companies said in ITC filings.

Brazil: Will They or Won’t They?

Brazil’s Chamber on Foreign Trade (Camex) could impose new tariffs on imports of U.S. ethanol at its next meeting on July 25. Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi asked the trade council to impose tariffs on the fuel in response to a surge in shipments from the U.S.

Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa), co-chairman of the Congressional Biofuels Caucus, told Bloomberg BNA in a statement that Brazil is a “critical market” for U.S. ethanol exports. Any new tariffs would not only hurt Iowa’s farmers and limit the market for U.S.-produced ethanol, but would also harm Brazilian consumers by driving up their fuel costs, he said.

Trade, Investment Review Deadline

The Commerce Department is supposed to wrap up a domestic sourcing plan for new pipeline construction and deliver it to the president Trump by July 23 .

President Donald Trump in January directed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to develop a plan under which new pipelines, as well as retrofitted, repaired, or expanded pipelines inside the U.S., use “materials and equipment” produced in the U.S. “to the extent permitted by law.”

Ready for a Senate Close-up

Four Trump nominees will get their moment in the Senate spotlight July 26 when they testify before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

The nominated positions include administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, administrator of the Maritime Administration, general counsel of the Department of Commerce, as well as under secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs that oversees the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the United States Census Bureau.

The hearing will pave the way for a vote in the near future, which would then send the nominations to the full Senate for final approval. The Trump administration sent three of the nominations to the Senate in late June and early July. But Karen Dunn Kelley’s nomination to be under secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs has been stalled in committee since late May. That position has not been filled by a confirmed incumbent since 2015 when an Obama appointee vacated it.

Rossella Brevetti in Washington at rbrevetti@bna.com; Brian Flood in Washington at bflood@bna.com; Len Bracken in Washington at lbracken@bna.com; and Andrew Wallender in Washington at awallender@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jerome Ashton at jashton@bna.com

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