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Importing Steel: Licensing, Tariffs and Where to Source

Close up shot of steel
Importing steel has become a massive industry in the U.S. Individuals and businesses importing this product must abide by a number of tariff and licensing requirements. Find out how to import steel to the U.S. successfully with the help of a Licensed Customs Broker.
By
Josh Kimble
July 28, 2021
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Last Modified: April 28, 2022

Importing steel has become a massive industry for U.S. importers due to the demand for this metal domestically. However, there are a number of things you need to know when deciding how to import steel to the U.S. Important details include calculating import tariffs, licensing requirements, and where to import your steel from. 

According to the International Trade Administration (ITA), importers must obtain a steel import license through the Steel Import Monitoring Analysis (SIMA) system. This license is required for every entry of steel product into the U.S. Additionally, steel imports are subject to Section 232 and Section 301 tariffs. 

Our comprehensive guide below provides a complete breakdown of the requirements importers need to comply with to successfully import steel into the U.S.

Importing Steel: What is the U.S. Demand for Steel Products?

Importing steel - Tubes of a steel in a warehouse

An ITA report from 2019 listed the U.S. as the world’s largest steel importer, accounting for 26.3 million metric tons and about 8% of all steel imported globally. 

Since then, U.S. steel imports have only grown. The U.S. imported 28.5 million metric tons in 2021 and is on pace to surpass that number in 2022, importing 7.8 million metric tons in the first quarter alone.

The reason the U.S. must import steel is simple: since reaching a peak of 141 million tons of steel produced in 1969, the country has steadily reduced the amount it produces domestically. To reflect that trend, small specialty and mini-mills have gradually replaced most of the large steel mills that powered the United States during its most productive stretches.

So while the need for steel hasn’t gone anywhere, America’s output has been reduced. Hence the need to import steel from outside sources.  

Where Does the U.S. Import Steel From?

According to the ITA, Canada is the largest exporter of steel products to the U.S. In fact, America’s two closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico, make up more than one-third of all U.S steel product imports. 

Brazil closely trails Mexico as the third-largest source of U.S. steel. However, it is the country’s largest supplier of semi-finished steel products. Canada primarily supplies flat and long steel products while South Korea is the largest U.S. supplier of pipe and tube steel.

It’s important to note that all four of these countries have also been exempted from Section 232 tariffs which place an additional 25% tax on imports of steel into the U.S. 

In total, the U.S. imports steel products from nearly 80 countries worldwide. Other notable sources of steel include Russia, Germany and Japan, which each accounted for between 3% and 5% of U.S. steel imports in 2021.

Top 5 Sources of U.S. Steel Products (2021)

CountrySteel Imports (in Metric Tons)
Canada6,326,365
Mexico4,321,996
Brazil3,960,131
South Korea2,492,880
Russia1,466,850

Source: https://www.trade.gov/data-visualization/us-steel-import-monitor

Importing Steel from China

While China sits just outside the top 10 in U.S. steel imports, it still accounted for more than 430 thousand metric tons of steel imported into the U.S. in 2021. The U.S. imports primarily flat and long steel products from China.

Due to Section 232 and Section 301, there is a 25% tariff on steel imports from China. Section 301 specifically targets fabricated structural steel, which is not covered by Section 232.

Additionally, dozens of steel imports from China are subject to anti-dumping/countervailing duties (AD/CVD). These duties place an additional set of taxes on imports into the U.S.

Need Help Importing Steel?
Personalized, 1-on-1 import consulting
Accurate HTS code and tariff classification 
Assured advice on steel import eligibilty
*After the application is complete, bond approval can be received from CBP within the same day.

What Type of Steel Does the U.S. Import?

While there are many types of steel products imported into the U.S. each year, the ITA tracks six categories of steel imports. Those categories are:

  1. Flat (sheets, strips, plates)
  2. Semi-Finished
  3. Pipe and Tube (either seamless or welded)
  4. Long (bars, rails, rods)
  5. Stainless
  6. Other

The largest category of steel imported to the U.S. is flat steel products, followed by semi-finished and long steel.

Types of U.S. Steel Imports

Type of Steel ImportAmount Imported (in Metric Tons)Percentage of Steel Imports
Flat11.2 million39%
Sem-Finished7.5 million26%
Long4.8 million17%
Pipe and Tube4.0 million14%
Stainless1.2 million4%
Other0.02 million<1%

Source: https://www.trade.gov/data-visualization/us-steel-import-monitor

Do I Need a Steel Import License?

A steel import license must be issued by the SIMA office for all steel product imports entered into the U.S. Importers, or their customs brokers, can apply for the import license online through the SIMA Licensing System.

This system allows importers to register, apply and receive their licenses quickly using one online platform. Users may view, archive, or edit any licenses they’ve received. They may also duplicate licenses as a template for future use.

If an importer is entering a shipment valued at $5,000 or less, they may obtain what is considered a “low value” license. 

What are Steel Import Tariffs?

Steel ready to be loaded at an ocean port

Section 232 and Section 301 are executive orders signed in 2018 that place additional tariffs on the import of steel products into the U.S. Those tariffs were originally put in place in order to protect the interest of U.S. producers and manufacturers. 

Section 232 Tariffs

Section 232 tariffs specifically target the imports of steel and aluminum into the U.S. In addition to the standard import duty owed on each product, importers must also pay an additional 25% tariff on steel imports and an additional 10% tariff on aluminum imports when sourced from a country impacted by Section 232.

Section 232 tariffs impact most U.S. trade partners, however, there are a few exceptions. In 2019, an agreement was made to fully lift the tariff for both Canada and Mexico. Brazil, South Korea, Argentina, Japan and the United Kingdom have all been given exemptions from the tariff in exchange for import quotas. Australia had the tariff fully lifted as well.

It’s important to note that these tariffs do not apply to the import of fabricated structural steel.

Section 301 Tariffs

Section 301 tariffs do not target steel specifically, however, steel products have been impacted by this legislation. Section 301 specifically targets the import of products from China, impacting more than $550 million worth of goods.

These tariffs are divided up into four lists, placing tariffs on products ranging between 7.5% and 25% in additional taxes. In the case of steel, this legislation places an additional 25% tariff on fabricated structural steel imported from China.

Previously, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) had allowed the exclusion of five fabricated steel products, meaning those products were exempt from the increased tariffs. However, those exclusions have since expired, and in March 2022, the USTR declined to reinstate said exclusions.

Those exclusions included: 

  • Girders of iron or steel, meeting ASTM standard A572, Grades 50, 65, or 70 (HTS 7308.90.3000)
  • Pipes of iron or steel, with connectors, meeting ASTM standard A572, Grade 50 (HTS 7308.90.3000)
  • Posts of steel pipe and tube, with ball knobs attached (HTS 7308.90.3000)
  • Posts of steel pipe and tube, with sill plates and ball studs attached (HTS 7308.90.3000)
  • Rib nodes of iron or steel, meeting ASTM standard A572, Grades 50, 65, or 70 (HTS 7308.90.3000)

If you’ve previously imported steel and paid section 301 duties, you may be eligible for a refund based on these recently reinstated exclusions. To learn more, check out our article on Section 301 Tariff Refunds.

Are Steel Imports Subject to Anti-Dumping/Countervailing Duties? 

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, there are 152 anti-dumping and countervailing duty orders in place on steel imports from 32 countries.

These duties are put in place in order to protect U.S. industry and combat the unfair dumping and/or subsidizing of steel imports from other countries. 

To determine whether the specific steel products you’re importing are subject to anti-dumping or countervailing duties, you can speak to our Licensed Customs Brokers. They’ll examine your previous entries, product information, and more to determine whether you’ll be responsible for paying for these additional duties. 

Need Help Importing Steel?
Personalized, 1-on-1 import consulting
Accurate HTS code and tariff classification 
Assured advice on steel import eligibilty
*After the application is complete, bond approval can be received from CBP within the same day.

Do I Need a Customs Bond To Import Steel?

Stacks of steel products at port

All imports of steel, regardless of import value, must be accompanied by a customs bond.

A customs bond is required to accompany a shipment for two reasons:

  1. The shipment has a value of $2,500 or more, or 
  2. One of the products in the shipment is regulated by one of Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) partner government agencies 

In the case of steel imports, your shipment will likely fit both criteria. Steel is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which means a customs bond must be obtained in order to import steel. Additionally, it’s unlikely that a shipment of steel will be valued at less than $2,500.

Import Steel With USA Customs Clearance

Importing steel can be a complicated process that requires careful attention to detail in order to ensure that all import requirements are met. Whether you need to secure a steel import license, a customs bond, or ensure you’re not paying unnecessary duties, it’s important that you seek the help of a CBP-licensed professional.

At USA Customs Clearance, our team of Licensed Customs Brokers can help you do all of that and more. In addition to helping you navigate the many steel import requirements, we can also help you become a registered importer, protect your import data, or provide personalized 1-on-1 advice during one of our consulting sessions.
If you’re new to importing, we can offer all of these services and more at one low price in our new importer bundles. Get the help you need to import your steel successfully and contact us today.

Need Help Importing Steel?
Personalized, 1-on-1 import consulting
Accurate HTS code and tariff classification 
Assured advice on steel import eligibilty
*After the application is complete, bond approval can be received from CBP within the same day.
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