US reaps more than $1.4 billion from steel and aluminum tariffs, report finds

Key Points
  • Between March 23 and July 16, the U.S. collected $1.4 billion from levies on foreign imports of steel and aluminum.
  • That figure could reach $7.5 billion this year, based on last year's import levels.
  • Tariff revenue is impacted by Commerce Department exclusions and President Trump’s change of heart.
President Donald Trump holds up a proclamation during a White House ceremony to establish tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum at the White House in Washington, March 8, 2018.
Leah Millis | Reuters

In less than five months, the Trump administration has collected more than $1.4 billion in new revenue from steel and aluminum tariffs, according to a recent report prepared for members of Congress.

The Congressional Research Service estimated that, between March 23 and July 16, the U.S. reaped $1.1 billion and $344.2 million from levies on foreign steel and aluminum, respectively.

Those earnings are on the rise as trade negotiations with allies linger on and President Donald Trump moves to hike tariff rates on countries like Turkey. CRS says the new tariffs could reap the U.S. some $7.5 billion — $5.8 billion on steel and $1.7 billion on aluminum – based on last year's import levels. In 2017, the U.S. imported $29 billion worth of steel products covered the tariffs and $17.4 billion worth of aluminum.

Trump has suggested the tariffs – originally unveiled as a national security provision – could have the added benefit of reducing the federal deficit, which rose to $77 billion in July, wider than the July 2017 budget deficit of $43 billion. And the Treasury's borrowing to fund government operations is set to top $1 trillion this year for the first time ever.

"Because of Tariffs we will be able to start paying down large amounts of the $21 Trillion in debt that has been accumulated," Trump tweeted on Aug. 5. "At minimum, we will make much better Trade Deals for our country!"

@realDonaldTrump: ..Because of Tariffs we will be able to start paying down large amounts of the $21 Trillion in debt that has been accumulated, much by the Obama Administration, while at the same time reducing taxes for our people. At minimum, we will make much better Trade Deals for our country!

When asked about the revenue generated by tariffs on CNBC's "Squawk Box," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, demurred saying: "We're early in the stages, so I'm not going to give specific numbers … our long-term objective is not to collect tariffs. Our longer-term objective is to have free and fair and reciprocal trade."

Steel shipment unloaded last month at Port of Wilmington, Delaware. Tariff due on this shipment from Italy totaled more than $1.4 million.
Stephanie Dhue | CNBC

Tariff payments are collected by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and go directly into the Treasury's general coffers.

The Congressional Research Service acknowledged that tariff revenue would be impacted by "dynamic effects," like exclusions granted by the Commerce Department and reimbursements to companies that have already been paying tariffs. As of Aug. 6, Commerce had received 33,099 exclusion requests, approving 1,428 requests, while denying 702.

That leaves tens of thousands of requests unanswered, and companies operating under uncertain conditions in the meantime.

Metal Partners International, an Illinois-based rebar company, has swallowed price increases on steel of more than $3 million since May as it awaits the outcome of its exclusion request.

Higher prices await a new shipment of steel en route to Houston from Turkey, in the wake of the president's official doubling of steel tariffs on Turkey to 50 percent.

"This is certainly a shock wave to us right now," Frank Bergren, owner of Metal Partners, tells CNBC.