Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced Wednesday that the Trump administration was launching a new investigation into imported aluminum, looking at the impact a flood of imports has on U.S. economic and defense security.
The probe, similar to one initiated last week into steel, will determine whether subsidies or other unfair practices in countries such as China justify imposing countervailing duties or other measure to protect U.S. industries.
“Imports have been flooding in to the aluminum industry,” Mr. Ross said.
The Commerce Department has 270 days to complete the investigation and make a recommendation to the president. But Mr. Ross said the investigation likely would be completed before the deadline.
The probe by the Commerce Department, known as a Section 232 investigation, is part of a series of get-tough moves on trade. The Trump administrant also is expected to soon take steps to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Mr. Ross wouldn’t confirm a timeline for tackling NAFTA but said the aluminum investigation and other moves stemmed from Mr. Trump’s campaign promises to crack down on bad trade deals.
“The president said he was going to be tougher on trade,” said Mr. Ross. “This follows quite logically with him following though on his campaign promises.”
Aluminum imports have a direct impact on the U.S. military.
Mr. Ross noted that high-quality aluminum is used in the F-35 and F-18 fighters, C-17 transport aircraft, and in armor plating for a variety of military vehicles, vessels and missiles.
“The problem we have is there is only one American smelter that produces the high-purity aluminum needed for these uses. Just one,” he said. “Even worse, eight U.S. smelters have either closed or curbed production since 2015. There are only two U.S. smelters fully operational as we stand here today.”
A glut in global aluminum supply, some of it driven by countries that subsidize production, has driven down prices and U.S. producers claim they have been unfairly undercut.
U.S. aluminum output has dropped to 1955 levels, said Mr. Ross.
He said that China was a major playing in aluminum but oversupply was a global problem.