The US Commerce Department on Monday launched a national security probe into titanium sponge imports, adding one more item to the list of investigations under Section "232" of US trade law.
US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross accepted the Section "232" petition filed on September 27, 2018, by domestic producer Titanium Metals Corporation (TIMET) and launched an investigation into whether the quantity or circumstances of titanium sponge imports into the United States threaten to impair the national security, the department said in a statement.
Ross sent a letter to Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan informing him about the initiation of the investigation, and the Pentagon supported the probe, the statement said.
"The Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security will conduct a thorough, fair, and transparent investigation before we make a recommendation to the President," Ross said.
The secretary also noted that titanium sponge has uses "in a wide range of defense applications, from helicopter blades and tank armor to fighter jet airframes and engines." Imports account for more than 60 percent of US titanium sponge consumption, according to the department.
The investigation was launched under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which would allow the US administration to impose tariffs on imported products on national security grounds.
The Trump administration has repeatedly invoked the previously seldom-used Section 232, drawing strong opposition from the domestic and international business community.
Last year, the administration unilaterally slapped tariffs on imported steel and aluminum products citing Section 232 investigation, provoking retaliation from trading partners including Canada, Mexico and the European Union.
Last month, the Commerce Department submitted to the White House a Section 232 report on imported cars and parts, which could recommend up to a 25 percent tariff hike in the auto sector. The department also launched national security investigation into uranium imports in July.