WASHINGTON – The U.S. Commerce Department launched an investigation on Wednesday to determine whether a flood of aluminum imports from China and elsewhere was compromising U.S. national security, a step that could lead to broad import restrictions on the metal.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the investigation was similar to one announced last week for steel imports into the United States, invoking Section 232 of a national security law passed in 1962 at the height of the Cold War.
Ross told reporters the probe was prompted by the extreme competitive pressures that unfairly traded imports were putting on the U.S. aluminum industry, causing several domestic smelters to close or halt production in recent years.
China, the world’s top producer and consumer of the metal, is seriously concerned by the probe and hopes to resolve the dispute through negotiations, a Commerce Ministry spokesman said at a regular briefing on Thursday. The U.S. move is the latest of several potential U.S. actions aimed at stemming a rising tide of aluminum imports. The Commerce Department is investigating allegations that Chinese companies are dumping aluminum foil into the U.S. market below cost and benefiting from unfair subsidies.
Ross said part of the justification for the investigation was that U.S. combat aircraft such as the Lockheed Martin F-35 joint strike fighter and the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet require high-purity aluminum that is now produced by only one smelter, Century Aluminum Co.
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