FACT CHECK: Does The US Import Most Of Its Steel From Canada?

Emily Larsen | Fact Check Reporter

John Stossel, the libertarian news personality and former host of “Stossel” on Fox Business, tweeted Tuesday that most of the steel imported into the U.S. comes from Canada.

“Most of our ‘foreign’ steel comes from Canada. Are you nervous about them?” Stossel tweeted.

Many other laypeople on Twitter also said that most steel in the U.S. comes from Canada.

“Most of the steel used in the US comes from Canada,” said one tweet.

Verdict: False

Although Canada is the top exporter of steel to the U.S., the country provided just 17 percent of imported steel in 2017.

Fact Check:

News outlets and commentators dug into statistics on steel imports following President Donald Trump’s announcement that he will impose a 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum in the name of national security. Many articles focused on the proportion of steel that comes from strong U.S. allies like Canada.

The figures can be confusing – some articles pointed out that the U.S. receives 90 percent of Canadian steel exports, and many others said that Canada is the top exporter of steel to the U.S.

While the figures in these articles are correct, they may leave the false impression that Canada supplies the overwhelming majority of steel in the U.S.

Canada did provide more steel to the U.S. than any other country last year. But Canadian steel accounted for only 6.1 million of the 36.9 million metric tons of steel imported in 2017 – nearly 17 percent. Brazil supplied the second most steel – 5 million metric tons, or about 14 percent over the same period.

Steel imports can also be analyzed by the value of the steel rather than its metric weight. But even when considering the dollar value, Canadian steel accounted for only a fraction of total steel imports in 2017. Canadian steel imports were valued at $5.5 billion, about 18 percent of the $31 billion worth of steel imported into the U.S. in 2017.

Imports of Canadian steel should also be put in the context of U.S. domestic production. The U.S. produced more than twice the amount of steel it imported every year since at least 2009, according to a 2017 report from the International Trade Administration. In some years, the U.S. produced about four times as much.

About 81.6 million metric tons of steel were produced domestically in 2017. Canadian imports during that time accounted for only 5 percent of steel either made in the U.S. or imported from other countries combined.

Stossel told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email that he should have phrased the tweet differently, but that he was trying to point out that the tariffs would not hurt China as much as they would would hurt other countries.

The Department of Commerce report that recommended the tariffs warned that Chinese overproduction of steel threatens global free markets and weakens the domestic steel economy. Some organizations accuse China of dumping – subsidizing steel in order to flood the market at artificially low prices so that other producers cannot compete. According to the Commerce Department, China produces almost as much steel in one month as the U.S. does in an entire year.

Critics of the proposed tariffs say that the taxes will not thwart Chinese dumping, but will hurt many U.S. allies. Although China produces about 50 percent of the world’s steel, it is only the tenth largest exporter of steel to the U.S.

Canada’s steel industry, on the other hand, would take a big hit from a 25 percent tariff since the U.S. imports the vast majority of steel Canada produces.

Stossel went so far as to argue that Chinese dumping isn’t a threat to the U.S. economy. “Even if China ‘dumps’ products – sells below their manufacturing cost – that just means that China hurts its people and gives us discounts. We win. We get products,” he wrote in Reason on Wednesday.

“Yes, trade hurts some Americans. Some without new skills, or the right training, will struggle. But many, many more are better off – much better off – because of trade,” Stossel continued.

Trump officially enacted the tariffs Thursday, but gave Canada and Mexico exemptions while the countries renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

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Emily Larsen

Fact Check Reporter