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According to Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (Seifsa) Chief Economist Michael Ade, the decision by the US to reject South Africa’s application for exemption of import tariffs is a “travesty”, which will directly cost South African exporters roughly R3-billion worth of steel products and R474 million worth of aluminium products respectively. The US is imposing a 10% tariff on imports for aluminium products, and a 25% tariff on steel imports.

SEIFSA concerned about looming US tariffsThis decision was made despite several interactions between local and US authorities since President Donald Trump’s proclamation imposing the tariffs in March. One of these was an offer by the Department of Trade and Industry (dti) to restrict exports to a quota based on 2017 exports level.

“South Africa notes with concern the different treatment of trading partners, which will have an effect on the competitiveness of South African steel and aluminium products in the US and is likely to displace South African products out of the US market in favour of the exempted countries. South Africa is also concerned that the measures are implemented in a way that contravenes some of the key WTO principles,” the dti said in a statement.

Seifsa says the decision will deprive the local industry of foreign currency and affect domestic foreign reserves, with an estimated 7 500 workers likely to be affected, suggesting that the only option available for South African exporters is to individually convince buyers in the US to lobby for exclusions for individual companies on a case-by-case basis.

The Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) wants the government to appeal the decision, dismissing the reason behind the tariffs – that local steel exports pose a threat to US national security – as incorrect. “It is important to note that some of the exempted countries are the biggest exporters of steel and aluminium to the United States," Fedusa said.

Countries and zones exempt from the tariffs include the European Union, Mexico, South Korea, Australia, Argentina, Brazil and Canada. South Africa’s exports of steel and aluminium to the US account for 1.4% and make up only 1.6% of US global imports.

“South Africa finds itself as collateral damage in the trade war of key global economies. South Africa is concerned by the unfairness of the measures and that it is one of the countries that are singled out as a contributor to US national security concerns when its exports of aluminium and steel products are not that significant,” the dti said.

Image credit: https://www.seifsa.co.za/about/team-seifsa/

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