US reimposes 10% aluminum tariffs on Canada as manufacturers decry can shortage

Date: Tuesday, August 11, 2020
Source: Supply Chain Dive

US reimposes 10% aluminum tariffs on Canada as manufacturers decry can shortage

The tariffs apply only to non-alloyed unwrought aluminum, which aluminum producers use to make intermediate and finished goods, from auto parts to cans. The tariffs would not affect a U.S. manufacturer of beverages importing finished cans from Canada, for example.

But domestic aluminum producers importing from Canada will have to pay the raw aluminum tariffs, and those costs could trickle down to manufacturers procuring aluminum parts or packaging domestically. That might encourage U.S. manufacturers to seek aluminum products from outside the U.S. at a lower total cost, making U.S. aluminum producers less competitive when selling their products to industrial customers, according to The Aluminum Association.

The decision to reimpose the tariffs comes about one month after enactment of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada-Agreement — a deal designed to reduce trade barriers between the three nations. The tariffs fall under Section 232, which uses concerns of national security as a justification for the duties. Applying duties through this provision does not violate the terms of the trade deal.

Century Aluminum, a U.S.-based aluminum producer, applauded the decision to reinstate tariffs as a way to secure domestic production. Yet many other industry groups came out in opposition to the tariffs, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

EVP and Head of International Affairs Myron Brilliant described the aluminum tariffs as a "step in the wrong direction" and said most aluminum producers oppose the tariffs, despite President Donald Trump saying the tariffs were "absolutely necessary to defend our aluminum industry."

The Aluminum Association, along with the American Beverage Association, the Beer Institute and the Can Manufacturers Institute wrote a letter the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in late June in opposition to any tariffs or quotas on imported aluminum from Canada. "Constraints on imports of aluminum from our country’s closest ally ... will significantly increase the cost of aluminum in this country," the letter stated.

Higher prices could wreak havoc on a wide swath of industries, many of which are already struggling due to lowered demand during the coronavirus pandemic. Auto factories idled operations for months to keep plant workers safe and as demand from consumers fell. Autos Drive America opposed the aluminum tariffs.

Food and beverage companies have not suffered the same low demand as the automotive sector, but they are facing a can shortage. The issue is not a shortage of overall aluminum supply but rather a shortage of cans, due to a surge in demand from can users, such as beer makers, which typically would fill some of their beer into kegs for restaurant consumption.

Heineken and Del Monte have noted increased costs and squeezed margins due to higher aluminum prices.

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