How Much Steel Do We Import From China? It’s Complicated.

President Trump’s newly announced steel and aluminum tariffs are widely seen as a strike against China. But here’s an odd thing: the tariffs are based on a pair of Commerce Department reports (steel here, aluminum here) that examine whether domestic production of these products is essential to national security. However, the reports recommend tariffs only on raw aluminum and raw steel mill products (plates, wire, sheeting, etc.), and when it comes to raw metals, we hardly get any at all from China:

It’s pretty much the same deal for aluminum:

There might be a case that these products are crucial for national security and our supply shouldn’t be dependent on uncertain sources, but that only holds water if you consider Canada, Brazil, and Mexico to be uncertain sources. This is just me, but I can’t say I stay up nights worrying that Canada might cut off our supply of steel and aluminum if we get into a war.

But things get even odder when you broaden your horizon. If you look at more advanced steel products, we do indeed import a lot from China:

But these products aren’t included in the tariffs. Apparently we’re worried about being dependent on Canada and Brazil, but not on China. This is … peculiar, no?