Updated 3/1/18 7:30 p.m.
The Trump administration has announced sweeping new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports in an effort to protect struggling U.S. industry from drastically cheaper foreign imports. According to the President the new tariffs would be 24% on foreign steel and 10% on aluminum.
“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. What’s been allowed to go on for decades is disgraceful. It’s disgraceful. When it comes to a time where our country can’t make aluminum and steel … you almost don’t have much of a country,” the President said during a meeting with steel and aluminum industry executives at the White House today.
The initiative was hastily announced with top aides unsure as late as this afternoon whether the President would actually announce the moves. He reportedly gave aides less than 24 hours’ notice to make preparations for the event.
Other members of the administration have said that they needed more time, as much as several weeks, to turn recommendations from the Department of Commerce into an actual policy directive. The Commerce Department issued a finding earlier this month that warned that rising imports of steel and aluminum threatened U.S. national security.
The issue has been the subject of bitter debate within the administration as officials such as National Economic Council director Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, along with national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary James Mattis, advocated against such hostile policies while, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and others like U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer argued fiercely for them.
The worries of some of those that are against the measures are that they would lead to similar responses from other nations and could also adversely affect steel-producing U.S. allies.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average traded down sharply on the news losing more than 500 points before recovering slightly, closing slightly more than 420 points down on the day.
In an emailed statement to ITN, the President of the United Steelworkers’ union Leo W. Gerard said, “Today the President announced that he wants to impose tariffs at a level of 10 percent on aluminum imports and 25 percent on steel. For the USW, the objective has always been to restore market-based economics that ensure that our domestic producers can achieve a fair return as they invest in facilities, equipment and people, and contribute to the strength of our nation.”
“The objective should also be to reduce the negative impact of steel and aluminum imports that have decimated production in the United States. The tariff levels the President announced will help to achieve that objective,” Gerard added.
Experts also believe that special exemptions for U.S. allies who produce steel and aluminum would be granted, something the USW also supports, especially with regards to Canada. “Any solution must exempt Canadian production,” Gerrard said, acknowledging a special relationship in manufacturing, defense and intelligence sharing the U.S. shares with its neighbor to the north.
President Trump campaigned vocally on the promise of bringing U.S. trade deficits more in balance and characterized today’s announcement as a necessary step toward protecting American industry from unfair foreign competition.
“Our Steel and Aluminum industries (and many others) have been decimated by decades of unfair trade and bad policy with countries from around the world. We must not let our country, companies and workers be taken advantage of any longer. We want free, fair and SMART TRADE!” the President wrote on Twitter this morning.