Heavy tariffs and quotas on steel will hurt China, but other countries may well bear the brunt of such measures.
"The fact is that China does export a lot of steel and aluminum to the United States, but frankly, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, other countries import more steel than does China," said Max Baucus, former U.S. ambassador to China, which is the world's top overall steel exporter.
On Friday, the Commerce Department recommended imposing heavy tariffs or quotas on foreign producers of steel and aluminum in the interest of national security, following a trade investigation of imports. The metals are used in a wide range of industrial applications including infrastructure and cars.
President Donald Trump and his administration announced the investigation into steel and aluminum importation in April. It sought to determine whether the imports posed a threat to the country's national security.
The recommendations call for tariffs on multiple countries, although Trump could determine that specific nations should be exempt, based on the economic or security interests of the United States.
The president could also consider a country's willingness to work with the United States to address global excess capacity and other challenges facing the U.S. aluminum and steel industries.
The U.S. is the world's largest steel importing country. The top shipper of steel into the U.S. is Canada. Large Asian exporters — and American allies — that may be implicated include South Korea and Japan.
According to Commerce Department data, China was not among the top 10 sources of U.S. steel imports in the period between January to September 2017.