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COVID-19 — US International Trade Commission report on U.S. imports and tariffs on COVID-19 related goods

In a post from April 6th, I reviewed a WTO document on medical goods relevant to COVID-19. https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/04/06/covid-19-wto-report-on-medical-goods-fao-report-on-food-security/. As reviewed in that post, the data compiled by the WTO were useful but both over- and underinclusive. Because tariffs are harmonized for most countries at the 6-digit HS level, comparable data was only available at that level for the WTO’s analysis even though virtually every category included many products that are not relevant to treating COVID-19. The list also doesn’t include input materials as recognized by the WTO. I had suggested that it would be useful to have WTO Members supply information at their most disaggregated level of detail to see if a tighter fit of at least finished products could be identified in terms of trade.

The United States has now provided a report that provides its data at the 10-digit HTS level of detail for imports into the United States. It would be helpful if other major trading nations similarly provided their detail data to the WTO and for public release. Hopefully, the U.S. will provide similar data for its exports in the coming months.

Development of U.S. import data

USTR has been exploring possible elimination of duties on medical goods needed for the U.S. response to COVID-19 and is accepting comments through late June. The U.S. International Trade Commission (“USITC”) was asked by the Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee and the Chairman of U.S. Senate Committee on Finance to conduct “a factfinding investigation to identify imported goods related to the response to COVID-19, their source countries, tariff classifications, and applicable rates of duty.”. The report from the USITC’s Investigation 332-576 was completed in late April and is now available from the USITC webpage. USITC, COVID-19 Related Goods: U.S. Imports and Tariffs, Publication 5047 (April 2020). Updates to the report may be made through June 2020. See https://www.usitc.gov/press_room/news_release/2020/er0504ll1540.htm

In the report, the USITC compiled data on 112 10-digit HTS categories but noted that many of these categories which are generally more detailed than the 6-digit categories used in the WTO paper still contain large quantities of goods that are not relevant to the COVID-19 response. Thus, the U.S. data, while more refined that the 6-digit data used by the WTO are still overinclusive. To the extent major input data for products needed to address COVID-19 are not included in the USITC investigation, the results are underinclusive as well.

The USITC Executive Summary notes that of the 112 HTS categories:

6 cover COVID-19 test kits/testing instruments,

9 cover disinfectants ad sterilization products,

22 cover medical imagining, diagnostic, oxygen therapy, pulse oximeters, and other equipment,

20 cover medicines (pharmaceuticals),

19 cover non-PPE medical consumables and hospital supplies,

27 cover personal protective equipment, and

9 covered other products.

Looking at what tariffs were applied, the ITC looked both at ordinary customs duties (Column 1 rates) and also whether additional duties on products from China were owed because of the 301 investigation and subsequent actions by the Administration. The USITC indicated that 76 products (68%) were duty-free for ordinary customs purposes and that 36 products (32%) were subject to duties, though one or more countries’ goods entered duty free for each of the 36 products.

For goods from China, 59 categories were not subject to additional 301 duties, 55 products were subject to additional duties (39 products at 25% additional duties; 16 products at 7.5% additional duties) although 28 of the 55 categories were subject to exclusions (total exclusions for 13 product categories; partial exclusions for the remaining 15 categories).

The Commission pulled import data for 2017-2019 (including for several categories which expired before 2020 for completeness of the underlying data). The data show US imports by HTS category and then show the top 5 source countries by HTS and the all other country customs value.

The data from the investigation will be used by USTR and Congress to inform Administration decisions on which products should receive tariff reductions/eliminations.

Using the ITC’s list, the trade data can presently be updated through March 2020 as March 2020 data are now publicly available.. The total for the 112 categories for 2019 was U.S. imports for consumption of $105.3 billion up from $81.3 billion in 2017 and $93.7 billion in 2018. Imports in the first quarter of 2020 were $28.6 billion up from $24.6 billion in the first quarter of 2019.

The top 15 sources of imports into the U.S. in 2019 are the following. Data also show the percentage change in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the first quarter of 2019.

Top sources of imports Customs Value 2019 % change 2019-2020

Ireland $14.173 billion +12.77%

China $12.313 billion -14.13%

Germany $12.228 billion +20.35%

Mexico $ 8.791 billion + 4.44%

Canada $ 6.026 billion +19.57%

Belgium $ 5.952 billion +63.21%

Switzerland $ 5.082 billion +39.80%

Japan $ 4.144 billion +28.38%

United Kingdom $ 3.409 billion +11.42%

India $ 2.816 billion +16.71%

South Korea $ 2.694 billion -30.68%

Netherlands $ 2.545 billion +94.16%

Italy $ 2.177 billion +75.66%

Malaysia $ 2.163 billion + 7.65%

Costa Rica $ 1.693 billion +22.50%

All Other $16.574 billion +15.13%

Total $105.267 billion +16.16%

Different supplying countries focus on different parts of the medical goods needs of the United States. For example, the top four HTS categories imports from Ireland accounted for more than $10 billion of the $14.173 billion from the country in 2019 and all were medicines. In comparison, the top two HTS categories of imports into the U.S. from China were basket categories (other articles of plastic; other made up articles) which are presumably personal protective equipment (“PPE”) products and were $5 billion of the $12.313 billion. While ventilators were also a significant item, most other major items appear to fit within the PPE category.

Conclusion

The purpose of the USITC investigation and report are to provide information to the Congress and Administration to help identify which imported products relevant to the COVID-19 response by the United States are dutiable and which products from China are also subject to additional tariffs from the 301 investigation. The Administration and Congress will use the information as part of the Administration’s review of which imported products should face a reduction or elimination of tariffs at least during the pandemic.

However, the data also provide useful information for broader use in understanding the extent of trade in goods actually relevant to the global response to COVID-19. Hopefully, the U.S. will compile comparable data on the country’s exports and other major trading nations will supply comparable data to the WTO and to the public.

U.S. Additional Tariffs on Imports of Steel and Aluminum “Derivative” Products — Presidential Proclamation 9980

The United States conducted two investigations under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, as modified, in 2017 with findings that imports of steel and aluminum products were a threat to U.S. national security. Import relief (25% on covered steel products and 10% on covered aluminum products) was imposed by mid-2018. Retaliation by many trading partners followed without resort to WTO dispute settlement. Dispute settlement cases were also filed by a number of countries. The U.S. also filed disputes against those countries who had retaliated without obtaining final reports or decisions from the WTO panels or Appellate Body and authorization if the U.S. did not comply with any loss that might have happened. All the disputes that are ongoing are at the panel stage at the WTO.

A number of countries agreed to other arrangements with the U.S. or were excluded from coverage. These included Argentina, Australia, Canada and Mexico for aluminum products and those countries plus Brazil and South Korea for steel products.

On January 24, 2020, President Trump issued a Presidential Proclamation “on Adjusting Imports of Derivative Aluminum Articles and Derivative Steel Articles into the United States”. https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/proclamation-adjusting-imports-derivative-aluminum-articles-derivative-steel-articles-united-states/. The Proclamation (No. 9980) will be published in the Federal Register on January 29, 2020 and will apply to imports from subject countries beginning on February 8 (25% on steel derivative products and 10% on aluminum derivative products listed in Annexes II and I respectively). The inspection version of the Federal Register for January 29 is available today and the document is attached below. In the Proclamation, the President lays out the history of the 232 investigations and actions previously taken as well as the President’s intention to have Commerce monitor developments in case other actions were warranted. The action laid out in Proclamation 9980 is responsive to information reportedly provided by Commerce of possible evasion/circumvention of the duties. Countries who are excluded or who have arrangements with the U.S. on the original 232 actions are also excluded subject to certain conditions being present suggesting a need to address imports from those countries as well.

1-29-2020-FR-of-presidential-proclamation-on-steel-and-aluminum-derivatives

The purpose of this note is not to review the legal basis for the U.S. action (there have been a number of judicial actions in the United States challenging various aspects of the steel and aluminum national security case), but rather to examine the U.S. trade data to understand the breadth of the term “derivatives” and which countries appear to be the main targets of the additional duties.

Prior Proclamations Sought Review by Commerce and Others of Developments in Case Additional Action Was Deemed Necessary

The President in Proclamation 9980 references the fact that the Secretary of Commerce was directed to monitor imports of aluminum and steel and identify any circumstances which might warrant additional action. For example, paragraph 5(b) of the Steel Proclamation (No. 9705) of March 8, 2018 contained the following language:

“(b)  The Secretary shall continue to monitor imports of steel articles and shall, from time to time, in consultation with the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, the USTR, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, the Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and such other senior Executive Branch officials as the Secretary deems appropriate, review the status of such imports with respect to the national security.  The Secretary shall inform the President of any circumstances that in the Secretary’s opinion might indicate the need for further action by the President under section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, as amended.  The Secretary shall also inform the President of any circumstance that in the Secretary’s opinion might indicate that the increase in duty rate provided for in this proclamation is no longer necessary.”

https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/presidential-proclamation-adjusting-imports-steel-united-states/.

Similar language was in the aluminum proclamation.

How Broad is the Term Derivative Aluminum or Derivative Steel Product?

The aim of the Proclamation is to deal with products that undermine the purpose of the earlier proclamations. Proclamation 9980 reviews (paragraph 6) how the term “derivative” is used for purposes of the proclamation:

“For purposes of this proclamation, the Secretary determined that an article is ‘derivative’ of an aluminum article or steel article if all of the following conditions are present: (a) the aluminum article or steel article represents,
on average, two-thirds or more of the total cost of materials of the derivative article; (b) import volumes of such derivative article increased year-to-year since June 1, 2018, following the imposition of the tariffs in Proclamation 9704 and Proclamation 9705, as amended by Proclamation 9739 and Proclamation 9740, respectively, in comparison to import volumes of such derivative article during the 2 preceding years; and (c) import volumes of such derivative article following the imposition of the tariffs
exceeded the 4 percent average increase in the total volume of goods imported into the United States during the same period since June 1, 2018.”

What is the Volume of Imports Covered and Which are the Major Exporting Countries?

When one looks at the products that are covered by the two Annexes, one will see relatively few tariff categories covered by the new Proclamation. There are two HS categories that contain products that may be either steel or aluminum – bumper stampings and body stampings. There are significant imports of bumper stampings (though the data are not broken between steel, aluminum and other material). Imports from all counttries of bumper stampings in the first eleven months of 2019 were $394.3 million (of which $199.6 million are from countries not excluded for aluminum; $198.4 million if steel). Body stamps were significantly smaller, $5.2 million from all countries in Jan.-Nov. 2019 ($2.4 million covered if all are aluminum; $2.3 million covered if all are steel). The 8708 categories may have met the Commerce criteria but show a decline in 2019 vs. 2018 of 8.63% for the covered products/countries.

The other aluminum products identified — stranded wire, cables, plaited bands and the like (HS 7614.10.50, 7614.90.20, 7614.90.40, 7614.90.50) are relatively small in value – $43 million for all countries in 2019 (11 months)($26.9 million for countries subject to the additional 10% duties). The products/countries covered increased over the first 11 months of 2018 by 41.45%.

The other steel products identified – nails, tacks (other than thumb tacks), drawing pins, corrugated nails, staples and similar articles (HTS 7317.00.30.00, 7317.00.5503, 7317.005505, 7317.00.5507, 7317.00.5560, 7317.00.5580, 7317.00.6560) were $331.8 million in the first eleven months of 2019 for all countries ($276.9 million for countries covered by the new 25% duty). However, the rate of increase for covered products/countries was only 7.03% in 2019 versus 2018 (but had large increases vs. 2016 and 2017).

Countries with large exports in 2019 of the aluminum products (other than bumpers and body stampings) include Turkey at $7.4 million, India at $7 million, China at $5.0 million, Indonesia at $1.6 million, Italy at $1.35 million.

Countries with large exports in 2019 of the steel derivative products (other than bumpers and body stampings) include Oman at $59.5 million, Taiwan at $31 million, Turkey at $28.4 million, Thailand at $26.0 million, India at $25.3 million, Sri Lanka at $22.2 million, China at $20.4 million, Liechtenstein at $13.0 million, Malaysia at $12.5 million, Austria at $9.9 million and Saudi Arabia at $9.4 million.

On bumpers and body stampings, a number of the excluded countries are major suppliers — imports from Canada were $151.9 million in the first eleven months of 2019. Imports from Mexico were $44.6 million. For countries facing higher tariffs of 10% or 25% depending on whether the exported bumper stamping or body stamping is steel or aluminum, some of the large suppliers in 2019 were Taiwan at $87.4 million, Japan at $41.4 million, China at $39.4 million, Germany at $12.1 million, South Africa at $4.5 million, Italy at $3.8 million and Thailand at $3.6 million.

Conclusion

While any import measure by the President should be periodically reviewed for effectiveness and the need to maintain, the current action by the President in essence is a minor tweak with only $504 million of imports covered by the modified coverage of the Section 232 Proclamations — likely less than 1% of imports of steel and aluminum covered by the original proclamations.

It is true that the domestic steel and aluminum industries are not operating at the levels viewed as optimal and the problem of massive excess capacity in China and other countries is little changed in fact. But if a revision were needed, the level of ambition reflected in the Proclamation seems inadequate to the task.

So perhaps the way to read the proclamation is a recognition by the Administration that the existing relief hasn’t achieved the full measure of relief intended and to give trading partners warning that more is possible if the underlying problems aren’t addressed.

The Proclamation will certainly engender more disputes and increased tension with many of our trading partners. It is hard to understand the calculus (divorced from 2020 election posturing) of taking such a modest step, but time will tell if this is simply a prelude to a larger action in the coming months.