US will investigate aluminum imports as national security hazard

US will investigate aluminum imports as national security hazard
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Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Wednesday evening that the U.S. is launching an investigation into whether a deluge of aluminum imports from countries such as Russia and China is threatening national security. 

Ross said the Trump administration is "reacting to real-world conditions" that imports of aluminum have been steadily rising in the past few years while U.S. producers have experienced job losses and plant closings. 

“Imports have been flooding into the aluminum industry,” Ross told reporters during a White House briefing. 

He said that actions prove how President Trump is making good on vows made during his run for the White House to get tough on trade, so “this follows quite logically that he is following through with his campaign promises.”

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Trump is trying to show some forward progress on a slew of trade policy initiatives as the end of his first 100 days in office rapidly approaches.

This is the second national security study that Trump has recently ordered, and Ross said more could be on the way for other industries such as imports of semiconductors. 

Last week, Trump called on Ross to investigate whether steel imports from countries like China are jeopardizing national security.

The president will sign the latest order on Thursday to determine whether tariffs need to be levied.

Trump's plans to build up the military are once again playing heavily into the administration's decision to investigate whether certain imports endanger national security.

Concern is brewing because there is only one U.S. smelter remaining that produces high-purity aluminum used for building planes such as the F-35, F-18 and C-17 as well as armor plating for military vehicles and some missiles, Ross said.

"It's very, very dangerous, obviously from a national defense point of view, to only have one supplier of an absolutely critical material," he told reporters.

He noted that the one plant remaining had already filed a trade case against dumping.

Overall, eight smelters have closed or curbed production since 2015 in response to the foreign influx of aluminum, Ross said.

While Ross criticized China's role for depressing the global aluminum market, he maintained that the latest investigation isn't “China-phobic” and that countries such as Russia and Canada sell significant amounts of the metal here. 

China accounts for only 6.2 percent of all aluminum imports compared with, for example, Russia's 12.2 percent. 

Still, Canada easily leads the way, sending in more than 3 million of the 6.5 million tons the U.S. imported last year, significantly more than Russia or China. 

Before leaving office in January, President Obama's U.S. trade representative, Michael FromanMichael B.G. FromanUS trade rep spent nearly M to furnish offices: report Overnight Finance: Trump hits China on currency manipulation, countering Treasury | Trump taps two for Fed board | Tax deadline revives fight over GOP overhaul | Justices set to hear online sales tax case Froman joins Mastercard to oversee global business expansion MORE, filed a case at the World Trade Organization (WTO) against China for providing subsidies to their aluminum producers.

That decision was widely praised by Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. 

But Ross said a decision about whether the case would be pursued by the new administration would largely be determined by the outcome of this new investigation.

“As you know, there’s been a lot of discussion by the president about the WTO and our collective frustration with some of the rules that they have," Ross said.

"We are going to act based on our view as to what are the proper rules and our view as to who's violating those rules — and the WTO will do what they do."