The United States imports far more steel than it exports, but American steel mills such as those that ring Lake Michigan in Northwest Indiana still send metal abroad to trade partners like Canada, Mexico and the European Union.
America exported 10.5 million tons of steel in 2017, mainly to automotive plants in North America, according to the American Institute for International Steel, a steel industry group that advocates for free trade. That’s about a third as much as the 29.6 million tons of steel the United States imported last year.
In 2017, the United States exported 5.2 million tons of steel to Canada, an 11 percent increase over the previous year, and 4.1 million tons of steel to Mexico, a 12 percent year-over-year increase. U.S. steel exports to the European Union grew by more than 60 percent to 407,451 tons.
“Last year’s steel export data offer strong arguments against the protectionist policies that are being pursued by the Trump administration,” the American Institute of International Steel said in a news release. “If tariffs and quotas are imposed on steel imports, other countries will almost certainly react in kind, making double digit percentage increases in exports just a memory. Moreover, the numbers provide an example of how the White House’s hostility to the North American Free Trade Agreement could hurt American manufacturers. Without the pact, shipments to Canada and Mexico — consumers of nearly 90 percent of the steel exported by the United States — will shrink.”
Steel exports are already shrinking, and declined sharply at the end of the year. U.S. exports in December dropped by 15 percent to 751,977 tons. That included a 20 percent drop on exports to Canada and a 16 percent decline in exports to Mexico.