Trump Says He’ll Impose Tough Steel, Aluminum Tariffs

Business groups, allies, congressional free traders not on board

The office of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer released a report this week saying other countries should watch it with unfair trade practices, a prelude to today’s announcement that tariffs were forthcoming on foreign steel and aluminum. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump announced Thursday that he intends to impose steep tariffs next week on all steel and aluminum imports to protect domestic manufacturers from cheaper foreign products, a move metal producers and their unions support as steel-using industries brace for higher costs and loss of jobs.

“We’ll be signing it next week. And you’ll have protection for a long time in a while. You’ll have to regrow your industries, that’s all I’m asking,” the president said, according to the White House pool report. 

According to Trump, steel imports would face a 25 percent tariff and aluminum imports would face a 10 percent tariff. The move rejects congressional and some business arguments against the tariffs, which could provoke challenges at the World Trade Organization.

The announcement came after Trump held a “listening session” with steel and aluminum industry executives.

The broadly applied tariffs would be an economic blow to China, which has flooded the international markets with aluminum and steel, and to U.S. allies Canada, Mexico, South Korea and Japan. Trade experts have warned that global tariffs could trigger retaliation from other countries in the form of tariffs or import restrictions against American goods with agricultural products likely to be the early targets.

The tariff announcement comes a day after the U.S. Trade Representative’s office released its annual report that includes the administration’s often stated sentiment that “countries that refuse to give us reciprocal treatment or who engage in other unfair trading practices will find that we know how to defend our interests.”

On Feb. 13, 15 trade associations sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn arguing that steel tariffs would raise their costs of doing business and make them less competitive against foreign rivals. They said over the years the U.S. government has already taken action to aid the domestic steel industry with 160 anti-dumping and countervailing duties against 37 countries and 25 categories of basic steel.

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