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Beer drinkers beware if Trump taxes aluminum, brewer says

If the U.S. does impose import duties on primary aluminum, it will affect the roughly 5,000 brewers scattered across the country. Here cans move along the production line at MillerCoors Brewery in Fort Worth.
If the U.S. does impose import duties on primary aluminum, it will affect the roughly 5,000 brewers scattered across the country. Here cans move along the production line at MillerCoors Brewery in Fort Worth. Star-Telegram archives

Donald Trump’s efforts to save American metal-making jobs by punishing cheap imports may come with an bitter side effect: pricier beer.

That’s the view of Tim Weiner, senior commodity risk manager at Molson Coors Brewing Co. and its MillerCoors LLC unit. “If there are duties on aluminum coming to this country, it will obviously get passed on to us and the customer,” he told an industry conference in Chicago on Wednesday. “Our prices will go up.”

The brewer’s warning juxtaposes the enthusiasm of producer Century Aluminum Co. at the prospect U.S. authorities will take action against unfairly priced imports. Following a World Trade Organization complaint filed by the Obama administration in January, Trump signed an executive memorandum in April initiating an investigation into aluminum imports as part of a push to bring back jobs to America’s rust belt.

But if the U.S. does impose import duties on primary aluminum, it will affect the roughly 5,000 brewers scattered across every congressional district, Weiner said. Asked about the likelihood of such duties, he said: “It depends on whether it’s politically motivated, or business motivated. I think there’s political motivation for putting some tariffs on.”

About 60 percent of the brewer’s packaging is aluminum can, “and we don’t expect that to change,” Weiner said. “We’re giving our customers what they want, and what they want is cans.”

MillerCoors operates a large brewery in Fort Worth, which employs more than 545 workers and produces numerous Miller and Coors labels as well as beers brewed for Pabst and Foster’s.

Alleviating some of the pain of increased imports for U.S. producers is aluminum’s 13 percent rally this year, the best performance among major industrial metals. That’s helping spur Century toward restarting some production at a Kentucky smelter, Chief Executive Officer Mike Bless said in an interview from the Habor Intelligence conference.

In years past, the conference focused on the growing oversupply of China-produced metal. This year, though, it’s abuzz with the standing Section 232 investigation to determine if an influx of foreign aluminum is damaging U.S. manufacturers severely enough to threaten national security.

The aluminum investigation will come after the Commerce Department makes a recommendation to the president on a similar steel probe. Trump said his administration will take measures “very soon” to stop foreign firms from selling steel in the U.S. at artificially low prices.

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