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A Warning to Commerce: National Security Arguments Cut Both Way

by USW Associates

Posted on 6/8/2017

ARLINGTON, Virginia -- The Department of Commerce (DOC) has released public comments, including comments submitted by U.S. Wheat Associates (USW), related to its investigation into the national security implications of steel imports. USW believes that if the United States goes down a road to restricting steel imports, many countries may use the same national security pretense to restrict imports from U.S. wheat farmers. After all, food security has always been tied to national security. To view USW's full submission, click here.

Under Section 232 in the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, the Commerce Department may investigate the effect of imports on national security. Commerce announced its investigation of steel imports on April 20, 2017. It is the first such investigation since 2001. Findings could lead to a conclusion that protective duties on imported steel should be applied for national security reasons.

"Pursuing a strategy of import protection under the guise of national security would set a dangerous precedent," said USW President Alan Tracy. "If the United States undermines WTO national security exemptions, it would be handing a gift-wrapped roadmap of protectionism to food self-sufficiency advocates all over the world."

The World Trade Organization (WTO) allows countries to impose trade restrictions for very few reasons, including national security. This exception is rarely used outside of weapons, nuclear materials and the like because most countries understand that doing so would open a Pandora's Box of competing national security claims. If the United States went first with a commonly traded product like steel, many countries would be eager to include food security in the exception.

"I'm all for challenging unfair subsidies, but farmers like me know you need to use the right tool to fix a problem," said Jason Scott, USW Chairman and a wheat farmer from Easton, Md. "Citing national security to block imports like this would be like lighting a fire to kill a weed. It might do the job but you could destroy the whole field."

The Department of Commerce has only authorized so-called Section 232 duties twice as a result of investigations, and not once since the WTO was created in 1995. The WTO agreements include an exemption under GATT Article XXI for trade restrictions related to "essential security interests," which can be defined broadly by the WTO member country.

USW's mission is to "develop, maintain, and expand international markets to enhance the profitability of U.S. wheat producers and their customers." USW activities in more than 100 countries are made possible through producer checkoff dollars managed by 18 state wheat commissions and cost-share funding provided by USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service. For more information, visit our website at click here.