Japan urges US to shun steel tariffs but makes no threats

Japan Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko said: ‘High quality steel and aluminum exports from ally Japan are not at all affecting US national security but rather are contributing to US employment and the economy.’ (AP Photo)
Updated 06 March 2018
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Japan urges US to shun steel tariffs but makes no threats

TOKYO: Japan on Tuesday stuck to its a low-key approach to threatened US tariffs on steel and aluminum, reflecting a desire to keep trade fights from hurting security ties as well as lessons learned about how to deal with President Donald Trump.
The spectre of a trade war coincides with signs of a thaw in a crisis over North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat, prompting concerns in Tokyo that talks between Pyongyang and Washington could take place despite Japan’s stance that the focus should be on putting increased pressure on Pyongyang.
Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko on Tuesday repeated that Japanese steel and aluminum exports are not affecting America’s national security but are helping America’s economy. He declined comment on possible retaliation.
“High quality steel and aluminum exports from (US) ally Japan are not at all affecting US national security but rather are contributing to US employment and the economy,” Seko told a news conference.
US President Donald Trump last week proposed tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum. That prompted Canada, Mexico and the European Union to threaten counter-steps if the plan, based on Section 232 of a 1962 US law that allows such tariffs based on “national security,” went ahead.
Peter Navarro, director of the White House National Trade Council, said countries will not be excluded from the tariffs but there will be a mechanism for some corporate exemptions, raising hopes some Japanese products will be exempted.
Any steps Japan does take in response to US tariffs would be consistent with rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), said a Japanese government source, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to media.
“We wouldn’t stand idly by, but ... if we did the same thing as the United States by taking steps that are against WTO rules, that would be like a children’s spat.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has forged close ties with Trump, is wary of confrontation over trade since keeping Tokyo and Washington on the same page on North Korea is a top priority, experts said.
“The security issue looms much larger now. I don’t think they want to set off Trump,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University’s Japan campus. “You don’t get what you want by getting in his face, but by making it seem he’s getting a better deal,” he added.
Also on Tuesday, Abe spoke by phone about the tariffs and other matters with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Japan’s foreign ministry said.
All three countries belong to an 11-member Asia-Pacific trade pact to be signed on Chile on March 8. Japan took the lead in forging the deal after Trump pulled the United States out of a 12-nation predecessor, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Seko is arranging a visit to China this month and the proposed US tariffs would come up then, Jiji news agency said. A ministry official was not immediately available to comment on the report.


Iran looms large over OPEC summit

Updated 22 September 2018
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Iran looms large over OPEC summit

  • Saudi Arabia only country in Mideast, and perhaps world, with enough capacity to keep market supplied, say experts
  • At Algiers, Opec and leading non-Opec countries are expected to discuss how to allocate supply increases to offset a shortage of Iran supplies

LONDON: The Opec summit in Algiers on Sunday meets amid widespread fears of a supply crunch when a forecast 1.4 million barrels a day of crude is lost from Iran in November when US sanctions kick in.
If, on top of that, more supply shocks hit the market in worse-than-expected disruption from Libya and Iraq, the price of crude could surge, said Andy Critchlow, head of energy news at S&P Global Platts. “At the moment, the market looks finely balanced,” he said.
There isn’t a lot of slack in the system. As Critchlow points out: “Upstream investment in infrastructure and new wells is historically low and it will take a long time to turn that around.”
At Algiers, Opec and leading non-Opec countries are expected to discuss how to allocate supply increases to offset a shortage of Iran supplies. The gathering comes after a tweet by President Trump on Sept. 20 calling on Opec to lower prices. He said on Twitter that “they would not be safe for very long without us, and yet they continue to push for a higher and higher oil price.”
Critchlow reckoned KSA still had spare capacity of about 2 million bpd. And KSA would get oil back as they go into winter as it had needed 800,000m bpd merely to generate electricity for the home market to meet heightened demand for air conditioning in the summer.
But there is uncertainty about what will come out of Algiers. For a start, the Iranians say they will not attend. That could be tricky in terms of an Opec communique at the end of the meeting as statements need unanimous support from member nations. And Iran has indicated it will veto any move that would affect Iran’s position, ie, one where other countries absorb its market share as sanctions bite.
Jason Gammel, energy analyst at London broker Jefferies, said: “The magnitude of the drop in Iranian exports is likely to be higher than any hit in demand as a result of problems linked to emerging market currencies, or trade wars. That’s why we expect oil prices to continue to strengthen. The Saudis and their partners will keep the market well supplied, and I think the issue is that the level of spare capacity in the system will be extremely low. Any threat or interruption will mean price spikes. Possibly by the end of the year demand will exceed supply; for now, the market remains in balance, but threats of supply disruption will bring volatility.”
Under the spotlight in Algiers is a production cuts accord forged by Opec and 11 other countries in 2016 which has been extended to the end of this year. The agreement helped reboot prices and obliterate inventory stockpiles that led to the crash in crude prices nearly three years ago. But how long will the agreement last? Algiers may kick that one into the long grass.
Thomson Reuters analysts Ehsan Ul-Haq and Tom Kenison told Arab News: “OPEC members would like to maintain cohesion within the group around supply ahead of Iran sanctions and declining Venezuela production, However, they are expected be in favor of maintaining stability in prices while doing so. On the other hand, they need to find a consensus around how their market share would be affected by a decision to pump more oil in the market. Any decision around production will likely be offset until the November meeting.”
Critchlow said that it is what KSA and Russia say and do that matters. “They speak for a fifth of the global oil market, producing a combined total of 22m bpd.” Together, they are the swing producers when it comes to crude production and supply.
Another factor about Algiers is that it is a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee, which is not a policy-making forum. Big policy statements may have to wait for the main Opec summit in Vienna at the end of year. That said, there will be some very high-level delegations in Algiers, including the Saudi oil minister and his Russian counterpart.
A statement about the demand picture could emerge, especially as there are fears about the impact on the global economy from the US-China tariff war.
Looking to the future, Critchlow thought the Opec production cuts accord would carry on into 2019. “Oil priced between $70/bbl and $80/bbl is a sweet spot for Middle East producers. Its’s good for Saudi as it helps stop further drainage of their foreign reserves and moves the budget back toward balance. Do they want (the price) to go higher? I think that would cause a lot of political problems for them.”