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National Security Restrictions Could Be Imposed on Uranium Products as White House Mulls Decision on Steel and Aluminium Probes

The U.S. Department of Commerce has received a petition requesting an expedited Section 232 investigation of uranium products. The petition asserts that “excessive levels of imports” of such products, particularly from mainland China, Kazakhstan, Russia and Uzbekistan, are threatening U.S. national security by destroying the domestic uranium mining industry. As a result, the petition requests relief in the form of (i) a quota that would reserve 25 percent of the U.S. market for U.S. uranium and (ii) a Buy America policy for U.S. government agencies that utilise uranium.

Section 232 investigations include consideration of factors such as the amount of domestic production needed for projected national defence requirements and whether imports impair the domestic industry’s ability to meet those needs, the effect of foreign competition on the domestic industry, and any detrimental impacts from the displacement of domestic products by excessive imports.

If the DOC initiates an investigation it would have up to 270 days to conclude it and submit its report and recommendations to the president. If the department concludes that uranium products are being imported in such quantities or under such circumstances as to threaten to impair U.S. national security, and the president concurs (a decision he would have up to 90 days after the DOC’s report to make), the president would have broad authority to adjust imports, including through the use of tariffs and quotas. Any import adjustments, or any other non-trade-related actions the president may elect to take, would be imposed within 15 days of the president’s determination to act.

Meanwhile, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross submitted to President Trump on 11 January and 19 January, respectively, the results of the department’s Section 232 investigations into the effect of steel mill product imports as well as wrought and unwrought aluminium imports on U.S. national security. However, Ross said those results would only be made public once Trump announces his decision on whether to take action, which must be made within 90 days but could come sooner.

In April 2017 the DOC self-initiated separate investigations under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to determine whether foreign-made steel and aluminium are being imported in such quantities or under such circumstances as to threaten or impair U.S. national security. If the DOC’s determination is affirmative, and the president concurs, he has the authority to adjust imports, including through the use of tariffs and quotas. Ross has said any such actions could affect “a very wide range of steel products and a very wide range of countries.”

The president directed the DOC to expedite these investigations and the results had been expected last summer. The delay has been attributed to disagreements within the administration on what, if any, measures to impose, particularly given opposition by downstream U.S. industries and concerns that national security-based import restrictions could spark retaliation by U.S. trading partners.

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