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Norsk Hydro's Alunorte refinery. Source: Norsk Hydro

A federal court in Brazil lifted one of two production embargoes on Norsk Hydro’s Alunorte alumina facility, as the Norwegian firm angles to bring the facility back to full capacity.

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In October, Brazil’s Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources lifted its embargo against the refinery; however, Alunorte cannot return to full capacity until the federal courts lift their embargoes.

Currently, the refinery is operating at 50% capacity.

“I am pleased with the support from local stakeholders and our employees. We are looking forward to be able to resume operations at Alunorte and restart the full alumina value chain, which will be positive for us and the state of Pará,” said John Thuestad, executive vice president of Norsk Hydro’s Bauxite and Alumina business area.

According to the firm, the civil lawsuit related to the refinery was lifted; however, no decision has been made yet related to the bauxite residue disposal area, dubbed DRS2.

“The decision to lift the embargo came after successful trials of Hydro’s press filter technology earlier this month, in which the firm successfully demonstrated its “state of the art” — in Hydro’s words — technology could process bauxite residues to a high enough standard to satisfy SEMA, the local environmental agency in the state of Pará, that the new treatment area DRS2 would be safe,” MetalMiner’s Stuart Burns wrote in October followed the decision from the Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources.

“However, the embargo on DRS2 from the federal court system remains in place; a return to 100% of production capacity cannot be resumed until that court order is lifted.”

MetalMiner’s Annual Outlook provides 2019 buying strategies for carbon steel

Norsk Hydro noted the Alunorte refinery continues to operate at 50% capacity utilizing the DRS1 system.

“As the federal court’s embargo preventing Alunorte from using its new DRS2 bauxite residue deposit area remains in force, Alunorte continues to utilize the DRS1 depository based on state-of-the-art press filter technology,” Norsk Hydro said. “Alunorte estimates a remaining lifetime of 8-18 months in DRS1, depending on production volume. Further geotechnical studies will be conducted, aiming at verifying an extended lifetime of DRS1.”

ronniechua/Adobe Stock

President Donald Trump announced today the removal of the U.S.’s Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum with resect to NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico.

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The tariffs had remained in place since June 1, 2018, when temporary exemptions for Canada, Mexico and the E.U. were allowed to expire.

Trade officials from the three countries had expressed optimism earlier this week that a deal was near to remove the 25% steel tariff and 10% aluminum tariff.

The move marks a major step toward approval of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), meant as the successor to NAFTA.

“I’m pleased to announce that we’ve just reached an agreement with Canada and Mexico and we’ll be selling our products into those countries without the imposition of tariffs, or major tariffs,” Trump told the National Association of Realtors, as reported by USA Today. “Big difference.”

President Donald Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and then-Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed the USMCA during the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires late last year. However the three countries’ legislatures must ratify the deal before it can go into effect.

As such, both Mexico and Canada in recent months have indicated that they would be unlikely to approve a deal without removal of the tariffs. Likewise, members of the U.S. Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, also indicated a deal would not be approved unless the tariffs are removed vis-a-vis imports of steel and aluminum from Canada and Mexico.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, lauded the move.

“Canada and Mexico are strong allies and have taken significant steps to assure that trade-distorting and subsidized steel and aluminum from third countries will not surge into the U.S. market,” Brady said.

“With this crucial issue resolved, now is the time for Congress to advance USMCA – delay means the United States continues to lose out on more jobs, more customers for Made-in-America goods, and a stronger economy.  Congress should take up this updated and modernized agreement, which will produce strong wins for America.”

David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., hailed the agreement to remove the tariffs.

“This is a victory for both our countries and our highly integrated steel and aluminum industries,” he said in a tweet Friday.

According to a joint statement issued by Canada and the United States, in addition to removal of the tariffs the countries will implement measures to “prevent the importation of aluminum and steel that is unfairly subsidized and/or sold at dumped prices” and “prevent the transshipment of aluminum and steel made outside of Canada or the United States to the other country.”

The joint statement also addresses situations in which imports levels surge.: “In the event that imports of aluminum or steel products surge meaningfully beyond historic volumes of trade over a period of time, with consideration of market share, the importing country may request consultations with the exporting country. After such consultations, the importing party may impose duties of 25 percent for steel and 10 percent for aluminum in respect to the individual product(s) where the surge took place (on the basis of the individual product categories set forth in the attached chart). If the importing party takes such action, the exporting country agrees to retaliate only in the affected sector (i.e., aluminum and aluminum-containing products or steel).”

Canada will also rescind retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products imposed last summer. In addition to a variety of steel and aluminum products, the list of items targeted for retaliatory duties included coffee, yogurt and orange juice.

From the Analysts: Price Impacts of Removal of Section 232 Steel and Aluminum Tariffs for Canada and Mexico

With the removal of tariffs on imports of aluminum from Canada and Mexico, announced today by the U.S. government, MetalMiner anticipates the aluminum U.S. Midwest Premium may finally drop from the current level of around $0.19 per pound due to the easing of restrictions on the flow of prime material cross-border.

Source: MetalMiner data from MetalMiner IndX(™)

As of now, the LME aluminum price does not appear to show any impact from the news, with the price still sitting close to yesterday’s closing value.

Source: FastMarkets

Given the lack of major producers of semi-finished materials in both Mexico and Canada, MetalMiner does not anticipate a flood of materials to hit the U.S. market; therefore, buying organizations can continue to expect tightness for semi-finished aluminum commercial grade sheet and coil. Buying organizations will likely not see large price drops for semi-finished sheet and coil products.

On the other hand, given that the 25% tariff on steel effectively deterred imports of that metal to the U.S., MetalMiner does expect to see an impact on steel prices as imports of steel increase.

Canada serves as the largest exporter of flat rolled steel products, as well as long products, with Mexico taking the No. 3 position. For tubular products, Canada and Mexico take the No. 2 and 3 positions. For stainless steel, Mexico serves as the fourth-largest exporter to the U.S. and Canada does not export stainless to the U.S. in a major way.

MetalMiner’s Annual Outlook provides 2019 buying strategies for carbon steel

MetalMiner does not expect to see any major changes in domestic stainless steel prices, as most of the global suppliers of stainless steel still face the 25% Section 232 tariff.