Washington plans to hit China with tariffs on $2.8B in annual steel pipe exports

The U.S. will hit China with tariffs on $2.8 billion in annual steel pipe exports in the wake of a decision Wednesday by the U.S. International Trade Commission.

The new tariffs on oil country tubular goods, which are steel pipes used in oil and gas drilling equipment, would open another serious trade fight between the U.S. and China.


The ITC in a 6-0 vote ruled that the Chinese steel imports were injuring the U.S. industry. The Commerce Department already had determined that the Chinese steel products are subsidized by China’s government.

Chinese imports in 2008 took up about 32.7 percent of the U.S. market by quantity and 24 percent by value, according to the ITC.

“We are fed up with China’s constant cheating and false claims of U.S. protectionism, when it is China that practices illegal state subsidization and dumping that seeks to destroy good jobs and fair competition under WTO standards their leaders agreed to abide,” United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said in a statement responding to the decision.

Gerard’s union was one of eight petitioners asking the government for relief. Several steel companies also brought the case, including U.S. Steel in Pittsburgh and Maverick Tube Corporation in Houston.

Plants operated by the companies seeking relief from the government are located in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas, which could give a sense of the political support for the action.

Tensions between the U.S. and China over trade flared most recently in September, when President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaA needed warning for Yemen's rebels — and for our allies and enemies alike What Joe Biden can learn from Harry Truman's failed steel seizure Biden: A good coach knows when to change up the team MORE decided to impose a never-before-used China safeguard on tire imports from China. The United Steelworkers had brought that case, arguing their industry had been devastated by Chinese imports, which had led to plant closures and lost jobs.

China immediately accused the U.S. of protectionism after the tires decision and filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization. China also threatened to impose barriers to U.S. imports.

The largest U.S. trade deficit with any single country is with China, and Obama has repeatedly come under pressure to take a firm line. Democratic lawmakers hailed the tires decision, though it drew criticism from Republicans.

Complicating the issue is the U.S. debt to China, which holds more than $2 trillion in foreign currency reserves, mostly in U.S. Treasury bonds. China’s purchase of those bonds helps the U.S. finance record budget deficits, and China has warned the Obama administration this year that it is worried about the U.S. fiscal situation.

Imports from China of the steel pipes impacted by Tuesday’s decision have tripled in the last year. The ITC’s decision would clear the way for Commerce to impose tariffs ranging from 10 to 16 percent on Chinese steel pipes.

Unions and U.S. steel producers have brought a separate anti-dumping case against the Chinese steel products, which could lead to an additional 96 percent tariff. Commerce and the ITC will make decisions on that case next spring.