The US Commerce Department announced on January 5th that it would be imposing duties on imports of tin mill products from China, South Korea, Canada and Germany after finding that these countries were dumping subsidized tin imports into the US below fair value. This move aims to protect the struggling domestic tin production industry, but risks raising prices for US manufacturers and consumers that rely on affordable tin imports.
Tinplate is a thin steel sheet coated with tin used primarily to produce food cans, metal packaging, and other containers. The US tin mill industry has been under pressure for decades as production shifted overseas where costs are lower.
Once employing thousands of workers, today only one major US tinplate producer remains – Cleveland-Cliffs Inc, which acquired the former Wheeling-Nisshin plant in Weirton, West Virginia in 2019. The plant currently employs around 170 workers represented by United Steelworkers Local 2911.
Over the past year, Cleveland-Cliffs petitioned the US Commerce Department and International Trade Commission (ITC) to investigate cheap tinplate imports from China and other countries that it claimed threatened the viability of its West Virginia tin mill. Politicians from West Virginia also testified to the ITC in support arguing that “fair trade” was critical to preserve living-wage manufacturing jobs.
Commerce Department Investigations and Rulings
In March 2022, the Commerce Department initiated anti-dumping and countervailing duty investigations into imports of tin mill products from China, South Korea, Canada and Germany in response to a petition from Cleveland-Cliffs.
Dumping occurs when a foreign company sells a product in the US for less than fair value, undercutting domestic producers. Countervailing duties target imported products that have been subsidized by foreign governments, once again harming US competitors.
After extensive investigations throughout 2022, in its final determinations yesterday the Commerce Department ruled that:
- China – was dumping tin mill imports in the US at margins of 30.43% to 153.27% and also receiving countervailable subsidies of 10.34% to 19.16%. Combined duties will equal the sum of anti-dumping and countervailing rates.
- South Korea – was dumping tin imports with margins ranging from 4.62% to 42.23%. No countervailing subsidies were identified.
- Canada – was providing countervailable subsidies to its tin producers/exporters from 4.54% to 7.69%, but no dumping was occurring.
- Germany – no subsidies were provided and German imports were actually sold above fair value. So no duties will apply.
To determine the actual duty cash deposit rates that importers will pay on future tin imports covered by the investigations, the Commerce Department identified subsidy and dumping rates for individual exporters and producers in China, South Korea and Canada. Over 30 such rates were calculated based on data submitted by foreign companies that fully cooperated with the probe. For any non-cooperating firms, an “all others” rate has been set equal to the highest calculated rate for that country.
|Anti-Dumping Duty Margins
|Countervailing Duty Margins
|30.43% to 153.27%
|10.34% to 19.16%
|4.62% to 42.23%
|4.54% to 7.69%
These countervailing and anti-dumping duty margins will now be imposed by US Customs and Border Protection as cash deposits when imports of subject tin mill products enter the US from China, South Korea and Canada. If the actual final duties are lower than deposit rates, importers can request refunds on the difference, but otherwise the duties could be collected in full.
Industry and Political Reactions
Predictably, Cleveland-Cliffs praised the Commerce Department determinations, stating “we are very pleased” and believe the evidence confirms that tinplate producers in China and elsewhere benefit from unfair government subsidies and pricing strategies in exporting to the US. Imposing duties to offset dumped and subsidized imports will “allow for investments that preserve good paying jobs” at America’s last tin mill in Weirton.
The United Steelworkers union also welcomed the news, saying tariffs are desperately needed after years of appeals for “fair trade” went unheeded and caused a “crisis” in domestic tinplate production.
In contrast, manufacturing associations reliant on stable and affordable supplies of tinplate have warned the duties could dramatically increase prices and disrupt supply chains for canned food, metal containers, packaging, building materials and various industrial products.
The Consumer Brands Association cautioned the tinplate tariffs will hurt all American consumers through higher retail prices at grocery stores and retailers. But calls to entirely exclude food cans and other downstream products from the duties have so far been rejected.
Abroad, exporters and foreign governments disputed the level of dumping and subsidies identified by the Commerce Department and some have signaled intentions to appeal the methodology and calculations in rulings at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Canada expressed particular concern over the countervailing subsidy rates applied to its tin mill products, insisting the Commerce Department failed to appropriately account for prevailing market conditions in Canada’s broader steel industry.
What Happens Next
With final subsidy and dumping determinations released, the ITC will now consider whether the imported tin mill products have “materially injured” the domestic industry. In making this decision, the ITC examines financial data from companies like Cleveland-Cliffs during a recent multi-year investigative period.
The ITC is expected to announce its injury determination by mid-January. An affirmative finding would lead to imposition of the final combined countervailing and anti-dumping duty rates on imports from China, South Korea and Canada.
However, if the ITC makes a negative determination that domestic tinplate producers were not substantially harmed by unfair imports, then no duties would be applied. Appeal processes could also delay implementation or modify the tariffs.
The tinplate duties follow recent actions by the Biden Administration to selectively raise trade barriers for politically sensitive industries like steel and solar, marking a shift from years of tariff cuts and free trade policies. This has prompted some complaints of protectionism from allies and controls on raw materials could inhibit US manufacturers aiming to compete globally.
However with tinplate, the very survival of America’s last production plant is at stake without relief from allegedly unfair foreign competition. The cases will thus be closely watched by labor unions and trade hawks wanting to onshore manufacturing jobs seen as vital to economic and national security.
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