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There’s now a good case to be made that the trade curbs originally called the “Trump metals tariffs” should be called the “Trump-Biden metals tariffs” (and even vice versa). For on Monday, the Biden administration reached a “truce” in the trade dispute they touched off with the European Union (EU – whose member countries’ steel exports are among those hit with these levies). And this agreement kept the U.S. curbs – originally imposed by the former President in early 2018 – firmly in place.

Arguably even more important, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai fully endorsed Trump’s rationale for the global scope of these tariffs (which eventually exempted some countries – including Canada and Mexico, which joined with Trump in signing a  revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement). At a Senate hearing last week, she noted that they were needed “to address a global overcapacity problem driven largely but not solely by China.”

In other words, Tai – and her boss in the White House – were acknowledging that massive and government-subsidized excess global steel output in particular was being dumped into the U.S. market, often indirectly, by many countries other than China. They’d either been permitting Chinese product to come into their import doors and go out their export doors to America (after being re-labeled); compensating for their own steel industries’ losses at the hands of dumped Chinese steel by ramping up their own exports of subsidized metal to the United States; or engaging some combination of the two.

Although President Biden has also decided to retain Trump’s China tariffs, the metals position deserves special attention. After all, a broad consensus has developed in U.S. policy and (to a lesser extent) business circles on the need for responding strongly to China’s systemic trade predation. But the metals tariffs have consistently been widely condemned as needless Trump slaps at many staunch U.S. security allies (like many EU members that also belong to NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization).

The Economic Policy Institute released a report in March documenting how well the tariffs have worked to help revitalize the U.S. steel industry, and how scant their damage has been to American steel-using industries. (My case for the latter proposition includes this post.)

But the American industry’s need for worldwide tariffs until the overcapacity problem is (somehow) solved also keeps emerging from the data on global steel markets that I first highlighted shortly after Trump’s announcement.

This post showed that before the tariffs were imposed, the American domestic steel industry was far and away the biggest global loser from the China steel glut – and that most other big steel-producing countries escaped anything close to comparable damage. Here’s how the percentages of global steel output of leading producers changed between 2010 and 2018.  (Note that some of the original 2018 numbers have been revised.)

US:                        -35.79

China:                   +20.44

EU 27:                   -23.73

Japan:                    -25.36

South Korea:           -2.67

India:                    +22.20

Turkey:                          0

Brazil:                   -17.24

Russia:                  -11.61

Logically, these figures can lead to only one of two conclusions: Either the U.S. steel industry had become the world’s least competitive by a mile (and very suddenly), or virtually the entire steel-producing world was exporting many of its own China steel problems to the United States.

And since U.S. productivity statistics reveal that the American primary metals sector (including steel and aluminum) had been a national productivity leader during that period, and was suffering major import-related production losses that were dwarfed by those of much less productive manufacturing industries, there can be no legitimate doubt that it faced a trade problem urgently needing fixing. (Here‘s the evidence.)

So what’s happened to the U.S. share of world steel production since the tariffs’ onset? The World Steel Association, source of the above figures, makes clear that the American relative performance has been much better. Here are the percentage changes in woldwide output between 2018, and the first quarter of this year:

US:                           -12.53

China:                       +8.44

EU 27:                     -16.45

Japan:                      -15.60

South Korea:           -12.47

India:                        +3.23

Turkey:                      -2.43

Brazil:                       -6.77

Russia:                      -2.02

These numbers show that China continues to increase its global production market share (to fully 55.66 percent as of this year’s first quarter) and that the United States has continued to lose share. But they also show that much of the rest of the steel-producing world is no longer able to gain so dramatically at America’s expense. Indeed, major producers like the European Union and Japan have fared worse than the United States, and the gap between American performance and that of the rest of these economies has closed substantially. And as the aforementioned Economic Policy Institute report has demonstrated, the U.S.-based steel sector’s fortunes in absolute terms have turned up as a result.

The lesson here is that the metals tariffs haven’t been a cure-all either to the U.S. steel industry’s troubles or even its trade-specific troubles. But they’ve undeniably helped – while leaving the rest of American manufacturing and the economy doing just fine. And because other global steel players are now taking it on the chin from China’s overcapacity, maybe the continued U.S. levies will finally help convince them to stop paying lip service to the goal of dealing with global – and especially Chinese – steel overcapacity, and join Washington in serious efforts to end it.