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Fresh US probe of Chinese aluminum imports ups ante with Beijing
[WASHINGTON] The United States on Tuesday stepped up its trade confrontation with China, ordering an investigation into imports of aluminum sheet worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
For the first time since 1991, the Commerce Department said it launched the investigation on its own initiative, rather than responding to a request from a US company.
The department said it opened the probe into possible dumping and inappropriate subsidies of "common alloy aluminum sheet" from China, which may be harming US industry.
"President Trump made it clear from day one that unfair trade practices will not be tolerated under this administration, and today we take one more step in fulfilling that promise," Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.
"We are self-initiating the first trade case in over a quarter century, showing once again that we stand in constant vigilance in support of free, fair and reciprocal trade."
The US imported more than US$600 million of the aluminum sheet from China last year. The product, used in building and construction, transportation and making appliances, may benefit from subsidies and may be sold in the US market below cost, the statement said.
The government could retaliate by imposing punitive import duties on the Chinese aluminum.
Washington's aggressive use of the rare tactic capped a series of adversarial maneuvers on trade with China, and came shortly after President Donald Trump's two-week trip to Asia this month, which included a stop in Beijing.
Among the steps it has taken, the Trump administration in April launched national security investigations into Chinese imports of aluminum and steel, warning that they threatened to undermine producers crucial to US defense needs.
The US also has slapped punitive duties on imports of Chinese aluminum foil and plywood, and announced earlier on Tuesday it had done likewise for imports of Chinese-made tool chests and cabinets.
Trump rose to office on a nationalist economic agenda, squarely blaming alleged unfair Chinese trading practices for US job losses and economic hardship - part of a combative overall stance that has focused upending prevailing trade policies to reduce deficits.
The Trump administration has launched 65 percent more trade investigations than the final year of the Obama administration, with 79 opened compared to just 48 in 2016, according to the Commerce Department.
The last time the Commerce Department self-initiated a countervailing duty case was 1991, on Canadian softwood lumber - a dispute that continues. The last self-initiated anti-dumping investigation was into Japanese semiconductors in 1985.
The department said it acted based on information suggesting import prices for the Chinese alloy aluminum sheets "may be less than the normal value" and production of the material have been unfairly subsidized, the statement said.
"The department also has evidence that imports of common alloy sheet from China may be materially injuring, or threatening material injury to, the domestic industry producing common alloy sheet in the United States," the department said.