Dec. 21, 2016

Manufacturers Decry Duties on Tool Steel

Manufacturers and metal forming companies made a recent plea to the U.S. International Trade Commission calling for tool steel plate to be exempt from antidumping and countervailing duties. Tool steel plate was rolled into an ongoing trade dispute involving cut-length plate from Austria, Belgium, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, South Africa, Taiwan and Turkey.

The metal users’ case is hard to dispute. Many tool steel grades are not available from domestic sources and haven’t been for a long time. What is produced domestically is done almost exclusively by companies not involved in the trade dispute, and those producers have found specific, high-value niches they’re comfortable supplying. Imports aren’t just there to fill in an occasional gap in the market. For many products, they are the market.

“Imposing high duties on these imports would have a devastating impact on the hundreds of thousands of well-paying U.S. jobs that rely on imported tool steel,” said Mark Vaughn, president of Vaughn Manufacturing Co. in Nashville, Tenn., who testified on behalf of the National Tooling and Machining Association and the Precision Metalforming Association. “It would force many of our companies and customers to reconsider whether to continue manufacturing tooling in the U.S.”

Vaughn stressed that tool steel, used for cutting, pressing and extruding of metals and forming tools such as dies, molds and blades has been recognized as a separate product from other steel grades for more than three decades, a critical distinction that has allowed the American tool and die industry to remain globally competitive. “Tool steel is used completely differently from the applications for carbon and other alloy steel plate, which is used in load-bearing and structural applications,” Vaughn noted.

The cut-length plate petition was filed by ArcelorMittal USA, Nucor and SSAB Enterprises, three domestic producers that supply minimal tool steel. The primary domestic producers of tool steel, companies such as Carpenter Technologies, Crucible, Ellwood, Finkl Steel, Niagara Specialty Metals and Universal Stainless, don’t make the volumes or grades of the product included in the trade case. “Imports of tool steel have no negative effects on U.S. tool steel producers who have not even requested, or in many cases supported, the petitioners’ request for trade relief,” read a letter to the ITC from the PMA and NTMA.

By ITC rules, however, petitioners need not actually supply the material in question, only that they have the capability. Whether the petitioners would devote more resources into producing tool steel plate given a positive ruling is another matter.

The manufacturers contend the issue is not just a matter of economics, but also national security. “We source tool steel from U.S. producers to the degree they produce the types, quantities and qualities of tool steel we require with reasonable delivery terms. However, domestic sources are increasingly difficult to come by, particularly for defense industry suppliers,” read the letter. When dealing with defense customers, “a shortage of timely delivered, domestically produced tool steel raises significant concern.”

A final ruling on duties is expected in January.

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Friday, October 20, 2017