Argentina seeks new markets for aluminum as the US probes imports

Argentina is seeking new markets for its aluminum exports as the United States probes the national security implications of imports of the metal, an executive at Aluar Aluminio Argentino, the country's leading producer, told Reuters.

Aluar commercial director Miroslavo Puches said the company was planning to boost shipments to Brazil to 100,000 tonnes per year by 2019 from 60,000 currently, as the neighboring country's economy recovers. It is also hoping to expand exports to Asia from the current 60,000 tonnes per year, he said.

"We are going to balance out the volumes a little more," Puches said.

Aluar, about 10 percent state-owned, is the sole producer of primary aluminum in Latin America's No. 3 economy. It ships an average of 170,000 tonnes-per-year to the United States, representing between 2-6 percent of U.S. imports in recent years, according to U.S. International Trade Commission data that the company's lawyers cited in a letter to the U.S. Commerce Department in June.

The Commerce Department announced in April that it was probing imports of aluminum from China and elsewhere, blaming unfairly traded imports for causing several domestic smelters to close or halt production in recent years.

In the letter, Aluar asked to be excluded from any adverse measure implemented after the probe.

Puches said the company is planning on exporting the same amount of aluminum to the United States next year as it would normally, and that he doubts tariffs will be implemented because of the impact such a move would have on prices for the raw material used by the U.S. auto and construction industries.

"But we are also trying to diversify a little, with new markets," he said.

In 2018, Aluar plans to increase its output to close to its installed capacity of 460,000 tonnes, up from 430,000 tonnes this year. The company posted earnings of 1.9 billion pesos ($117.2 million) in the second half of this year, up 66 percent from the same period the prior year.

(By Maximiliano Rizzi. Additional reporting by Luc Cohen; Editing by David Gregorio)