Brushing aside concerns from GOP lawmakers in Congress about spurring a trade war which might have negative impacts on the American economy, President Donald Trump on Thursday placed new tariffs on imported steel and aluminum coming into the United States, declaring the move is a “matter of necessity” for the security of the country, and a way to spur new jobs in those industries hit hard by foreign competition.
“Today, I’m defending America’s national security by placing tariffs on foreign imports of steel and aluminum,” the President said, flanked by the Vice President and steelworkers at the White House.
Mr. Trump said the issue of saving factory jobs in crucial industries in the United States was a central part of his campaign, as he vowed to do even more to help American workers – to put America First.
“American companies have not been treated fairly,” the President said.
The reaction was immediately negative from GOP leaders in the Congress, who are worried that the tariffs will cause other countries to raise trade barriers to American products, starting a trade war.
“I disagree with this action and fear its unintended consequences,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan. “We will continue to urge the administration to narrow this policy so that it is focused only on those countries and practices that violate trade law.”
Mr. Trump said if individual nations want to stop the tariffs, then they are free to negotiate new trade deals with the United States – and make them more favorable to American businesses and American workers.
“We’re going to be very fair, we’re going to be very flexible, but we’re going to protect the American worker, as I said during my campaign,” the President said.
Mr. Trump said he would not levy tariffs on Canada and Mexico, as negotiations continue to re-work the North American Free Trade Agreement with those two nations – though the President made clear that if there’s no deal on NAFTA, then Canada and Mexico might face the new tariffs later on.
The President again complained that other nations discriminate against U.S. products, while sending in cheap items to American markets, undercutting U.S. jobs and economic growth.
“They’ve known it for years, and never did anything about it,” Mr. Trump said.
While Republicans frowned, Democrats from the Rust Belt said the move was long overdue.
“Today's action finally sends a clear message to our trading partners that we aren't going to allow them to cheat Americans out of their jobs and infect global markets,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
“I’m glad we are finally standing up for ourselves,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).
Up until the announcement, many Republicans in Congress were still hoping to steer the President in a different direction, as there was already talk of GOP lawmakers trying to stop the tariffs with legislation.
“I will immediately draft legislation to nullify these tariffs,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ).
The details of any exemptions from the Trump Administration will be extraordinarily important – here was the overall explanation issued by the White House:
COUNTERING TRADE PRACTICES THAT UNDERMINE NATIONAL SECURITY: President Donald J. Trump is addressing global overcapacity and unfair trade practices in the steel and aluminum industries by putting in place a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports.
- President Trump is taking action to protect America's critical steel and aluminum industries, which have been harmed by unfair trade practices and global excess capacity.
- The President is exercising his authority to impose a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports in order to protect our national security.
- Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, as amended, provides the President with authority to adjust imports being brought into the United States in quantities or under circumstances that threaten to impair national security.
- The tariffs on steel and aluminum are anticipated to reduce imports to levels needed for these industries to achieve long-term viability.
- As a result, these industries will be able to re-open closed mills, sustain a skilled workforce, and maintain or increase production.
- The strengthening of our domestic steel and aluminum industries will reduce our reliance on foreign producers.
- The President recognizes that Canada and Mexico present a special case, and will continue ongoing discussions with those countries to address our concerns.
- The President welcomes any country with which we have a security relationship to discuss alternative ways to address our concerns, including our concerns about global excess capacity. He has left open an avenue for potentially modifying or removing a tariff under certain conditions for individual countries.
- Modification or removal of the tariffs would be possible if alternative means are agreed upon to ensure imports from a country no longer threaten to impair our national security.
- Under the direction of the President, the United States Trade Representative is responsible for negotiations with countries that seek an alternative means to the steel and aluminum tariffs.
- In addition, there will be a mechanism for U.S. parties to apply for exclusion of specific products based on demand that is unmet by domestic production or on specific national security considerations.
- This process will be managed by the Department of Commerce in consultation with other Federal agencies.
PROTECTING INDUSTRIES VITAL TO NATIONAL SECURITY: The tariffs imposed by President Trump will address steel and aluminum import quantities and circumstances that threaten to impair our national security.
- President Trump's action will address the conclusions reached in the Commerce Department's Section 232 reports on the effects of steel and aluminum imports on our national security.
- The Department of Commerce concluded that steel import levels and global excess capacity are weakening our internal economy and therefore threaten to impair national security.
- The Department of Commerce's report concluded that levels of foreign steel imports threaten to impair national security by displacing domestic production.
- The Department of Commerce concluded that global excess steel capacity will cause U.S. producers to face more and more competition from foreign imports as other countries increase their exports to further their own economic objectives.
- The Department of Commerce also concluded that the quantities and circumstances of aluminum imports are weakening our internal economy and threaten to impair national security.
- Rising levels of foreign imports put domestic producers at risk of losing the capacity to produce aluminum needed to support critical infrastructure and national defense.
- The report found that excess production and capacity, particularly in China, has been a major factor in the decline of domestic aluminum production.
- The Department of Commerce concluded that if no action were taken, the U.S. could be in danger of losing the capability to smelt primary aluminum altogether.
CONSISTENT ACTION: President Trump's action to protect American steel and aluminum industries is consistent with his Administration's policies and practices.
- President Trump's action is in line with his long-standing commitment to confronting harmful, unfair trade.
- On March 31, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order on Establishing Enhanced Collection and Enforcement of Antidumping and Countervailing Duties and Violations of Trade and Customs Laws.
- The Trump Administration has previously affirmed the importance of addressing unfair trade and the threat it poses to our national security.
- One of the pillars of the President's National Security Strategy is to "Promote American Prosperity."
- The National Security Strategy stated that the United States will counter all unfair trade practices that distort markets.
- A key principle of the President's 2018 Trade Policy Agenda is to enact trade policy that will support our national security policy.
- The 2018 Agenda stated that U.S. trade policy, like our national security policy, will seek to protect U.S. national interests.