Zhongwang Purchases U.S. Company; AEC Says Deal “Raises Very Serious Concerns”

A major Chinese-owned aluminum company is making a big entrance into the American market amid trade tensions between China and the U.S. aluminum industry.

Zhongwang USA, a subsidiary of Zhongwang International Group, is purchasing Cleveland-based aluminum company Aleris for $2.33 billion, the companies announced Monday. The deal was made as Zhongwang USA majority owner Liu Zhongtian and another subsidiary he oversees—China Zhongwang Holdings Ltd— are entangled in a dispute regarding U.S. import duties.

Aleris supplies aluminum to the building and construction industries, as well as the automotive and aerospace markets. It is currently undergoing a major expansion at its Lewisport, Ky., facility to bolster its presence in the latter sectors. The company will retain its name, management team and current operations.

“This acquisition is an international expansion to establish a complementary business foothold, as I strongly believe in the potential and prospects of Aleris and the aluminum industry as a whole,” Liu said in a statement.

Liu is the founder of China Zhongwang, the largest aluminum extrusions company in Asia and the second largest in the world. That company is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) regarding allegations that it evaded U.S. import tariffs on aluminum extrusions.

Allegations were brought on from the U.S. Aluminum Extruders Council (AEC) following a detailed report released by short-seller Dupre Analytics accusing Liu of inflating Zhongwang’s sales over the past four years. It claims Zhongwang shipped out semi-finished aluminum products from China to companies that Liu and people close to him control overseas, where the material was allegedly reprocessed back into aluminum billet and sold again.

“The announcement that Zhongwang and [Lui] intend to purchase Aleris raises very serious concerns for the entire industry,” says AEC president Jeff Henderson. “Zhongwang is a state-supported enterprise and has received large benefits and financing from the government of China. Zhongwang also has a long history of circumventing and evading duties in trade cases by shipping over a billion pounds of ‘fake’ extrusions to Mexico and Vietnam.”

He claims Zhongwang “has refused to respond to every questionnaire the Department of Commerce has issued, it remains to be seen whether Zhongwang and its affiliates will respond to the Committee on Foreign Investment questionnaires.”

Zhongwang has denied the allegations, and Sean Stack, president and CEO of Aleris, told Reuters that the Chinese company assured Aleris it was cooperating with the DOC to resolve the case. He stressed that the two were separate companies despite their link to Liu.

“This helps them move beyond that with very significant investment and exposure to the U.S. market,” Stack said. “Aleris’ position doesn’t change—we support free and fair trade with a level playing field.”

The transaction is set to close in the first quarter of 2017.

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